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Plunge Hong Kong

March 28, 2012

Hong Kong is far from just a pretty face, there is a lot of depth to her emerald shores.

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Sai Kung

Though not exactly the first location that springs to mind when pondering South East Asian dive sites, you’ll be surprised at what the South China Sea is keeping on the down-low.

Boasting 733km of coastline, pink dolphins, sharks, sea snakes and a plethora of other marine life, not to mention one of the world’s few natural deep water harbors, Hong Kong is a modest and wholly underrated pearl of the ocean.

Although the water runs cooler here, currents are touch- and- go and the visibility isn’t exactly 20/20, there is more to these waters than the turquoise hues and rainbow fish perhaps synonymous withHong Kong’s neighboring counterparts.

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image courtesy of asiadivesite.com

Many a dive enthusiast is quick to overlook and sometimes dismiss the beauty of Hong Kong dive opportunities, that is until they are made aware of the 200 surrounding islands, rocky reefs, volcanic sea-beds, and over 80 species of colourful coral.  There is also a wide variety of artificial reefs and offshore islands to dive on.

Having sung the praises of the area’s underwater beauty, respect for the art of diplomacy requires a mention of some of the less sunny aspects of a descent into South China’s ocean.

On plunging into the deep waters, one can indeed expect not to be entirely alone in their conquest, however, a person’s idea of good company is often subjective.  It is no secret thatHong Kong plays host to an estimated 14 species of shark, sea snakes and blue ring octopus, however attacks of this sort are extremely rare.

Although overfishing and pollution have had a lasting effect on Hong Kong’s marine eco- systems, divers are starting to report huge improvements including increased visibility, and more marine life in comparison to previous years.

The pros far outweigh the cons and local dive shop owner Tam Edy of Sai Kung will attest to this: “I have lived here all my life, and seen tourists come and go, swimming, windsurfing, the whole deal, but it is still a rare sight to see people actually settling here to complete their diving certification.  Many use Hong Kong as a stopping point between hotter, clearer places such as thePhilippinesorThailand, but they are missing out on a whole unique underwater world.”

Best Hong Kong Dive Sites:

Sai Kung, Lantau Island

Operators:

www.prodive.com/hk

www.marinedivers.com

www.splashhk.com

www.scdc.org.hk

Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

March 20, 2012

Dragon boat racing is a national sport steeped in Chinese cultural history.

Every year, thousands descend upon Hong Kong to witness the annual dragon boat festival (Tuen Ng) to commemorate Qu Yan, the great patriot poet.

Legend has it Qu Yan was exiled by Emporer Huai, having loyally served his court.  Yan did not give up, and travelled extensively teaching and writing his philosophies and ideas.

He eventually committed suicide upon hearing the news his mother country, the Chu State had been defeated by Qin State.

Fishermen, dismayed by Qu Yan’s death, rowed to the river to retrieve his body.  To stop fish eating the body, they tossed Zongzi (Chinese dumplings) into the river.

Nowadays however, Hong Kong Chinese celebrate their history in a slightly less morbid fashion, with dragon boat races, traditional drumming, music and Zongzi the order of the day.

I decided to explore why the Chinese are so captivated by the sport, and went along to train with the Cheng Chau Dragon Boat team one night.

A few sets in and I started to feel a rush.

The combination of shipwrecks lit by the dim light of the island’s night markets, the outline of nearby lantau island and being part of a close team who are willing to sweat blood and tears to maintain their team’s successes was such a euphoric energy.

I felt so welcome, despite neither of us speaking a word of each other’s mother tongue, just being there, in the moment was enough.

I took every command from the boat “master” to mean “faster”, which seemed to work, and just got my head down and paddled as hard as I could!

Wawa Li, (right of adjacent photo)HKBU student and dragon boat champion, 20, from Cheng Chau said: “Each district has it’s own festival, and each one is unique.  My hometown comes alive every year with flags in team colours on every street and square, its magical and really pulls the whole community together.

Fishermen, businessmen and people from all walks of life get together to race for their home district.

“Native islanders will often race against sea faring fishermen who live aboard their ships most of the year”, says Li.

The event falls on the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar annually, to mark the anniversary of Qu Yan’s death.

This year’s event will be held 6th June at iconic locations such as Stanley, Tai O and Cheng Chau.

How to get there:

Stanley: Get the MTR to central and get either 6, 6A, 6X and 260 Bus services from Exchange Square Bus Terminus.

Cheng Chau: Get the MTR to Central and take Ferry Pier 5 to Cheng Chau.

Tai O: Take the MTR to Tung Chung and board bus n.23 at the Bus Terminus opposite the MTR station, or take the Ngong Ping 360 Skyrail.

Please note that at the time of writing, the skyrail service was suspended due to recent technical failure.

How Much?: MTR fare: $12 HKD single, Ferry: $14HKD single

Happy Valley Races

March 5, 2012

Set amid towering city heights with only the buzz of surrounding neon lights synonymous with Asia’s world City, Happy Valley is home to a racecourse like no other.

Described by Lonely Planet as “A must-see”, Tripadvisor as, “A mid- city gem”, and with many more accolades to boot, this is an experience enjoyed by the well- healed, to those sampling Hong Kong’s racing world on a shoe string.

If emerald pastures, live music and some of the best point-to-point racing in Hong Kong still aren’t enough to reel you in, perhaps the lowly $10 HKD entry fee will sway it.

Unlike its UK counterparts, Happy Valley charges a lowly fee for the entertainment it kicks out on a weekly basis, from the moment you buzz in through the turnstiles, it is evident the place is quite literally dripping with dollar.

Hong Kong is a city held captive by the Jokey Club’s seemingly bottomless pit; funding anything from swimming pools to hospitals all over the region.

Jane Leung, Jockey Club bar hostess said: “The club likes to give back to the community, it is a win/win situation.  Punters support HappyValley, so it gives back.  The course is a very important asset to Hong Kong.”

A revolving door of ‘suits’ looking for an after- hours thrill are the likely culprits behind the huge budget Hong Kong  Jockey Club enjoys, and subsequently passes on to breathe life into the city’s many leisure facilities.

You don’t have to be rolling six figure sums to enjoy the atmosphere here, many students and locals turn out to watch the races with a cold one.  The toff crowd are lost on Happy Valley, owing to its friendly, ambience, and the betting starts at just $10HKD, meaning everyone can afford to put money on the GGs.

Get there by 7pm, catch some live music, kick back and enjoy the festival atmosphere.

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How to get there:

Vital Statistics:

Entry: $10

Betting minimum: $10HKD

Drink: Beers from $45HKD

Trek Hong Kong

March 5, 2012

With turquoise shores, dense greenland, soaring skyscrapers and island clusters dotted along some 733km of dramatic coastline, Hong Kong is plays host to some of the most stunning and diverse trekking trails in the world.

From forest to shore, spiritual journeys to the downright difficult, everyone can get their teeth into a trail here.

Marco Fohen, founder of trek tour company, Walk Hong Kong said: “I have been living inHong Kong for over 20 years now, and trekking all over the region for as long, and I still discover hidden treasures, paths and sights I have never come across before. It’s fresh and beautiful and can keep you captivated for a lifetime.”

ImageLantau Island is a firm favourite among locals and expats alike, and has been hailed as one of the most beautiful areas in Hong Kong.

As the biggest island of the territory, sporting some 100km of walking trails; this is not an area to be covered in a day.

However, many people choose just one of the 12 routes commonly navigated, the most popular of these being the hike up to the Po Lin Monastery, home to the world’s largest Bronze Buddha statue.

The Tin Tan Buddha is an impressive architectural project completed in 1993 atop the highest point on the island providing all that climb the 260 stairs to the highest point truly breathtaking views.

ImageAnother trekking gem is the popular tourist trail from Vctoria Peak to Aberdeen Harbour.

The route cuts through the Central Business District and provides spectacular views of Kowloon Peninsular, New Territories and many islands of the South China Sea.

Finish off at Aberdeen to indulge in some hard- earned dim sum at the world famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant.

Trekking opportunities in Hong Kong needn’t break the bank.

Despite the persistence of “tour guides” eager to make a quick buck, clever planning and consultation of a map will should see you through.

How to get there:

  • Tin Tan Buddha:

Take the MTR (Hong Kong Metro System) to Tung Chung, at the end of the Tung Chung Line, and Take the Ngong Ping cable car, or Hike the extra.

Cost: One-way MTR fare: $12HKD ($5 with an Octopus Card)

Return Ngong Ping cable car fare: $115 HKD and up, depending on service

  • The Peak:

From Central Station, take exit J3 and walk to bus stop number 15c, this will take you straight to the Peak tram lower terminal.

Cost: One- way MTR fare: as before

Bus ticket: $4.50HKD

Try Tai Chi

February 5, 2012
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Tai Chi is Hong Kong’s favourite zen passtime.

A morning stroll through the city’s many leisure parks and green spaces unveils a gentle, calmer side to the hectic, 24 hour buzz commonly associated with the thriving metropolis.

It serves as a reminder, in midst of a seemingly Western urban sprawl, that you are in fact some way East.

Skyscrapers and busy offices melt into the background as groups of people of all ages, sizes and creed gather at sunrise to practice; sporting ribbon, swords and more often than not, just plain freestyle.

It is an ancient Chinese exercise form, comprising of a mind blowing range of fluid movements designed to keep the body healthy and to balance the Yin and Yang within.

It is relaxing and non-strenuous, accounting for it’s popularity with tourists visiting Hong Kong’s famous parks such as Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, and the Peak, on Hong Kong Island.

The Hong Kong Government offers tourists free Tai Chi sessions:

The Hong Kong Tourism Board runs free Tai Chi classes for beginners, four days a week, with a trained Tai Chi practitioner. The classes are run at two of Hong Kong’s prime locations, the Avenue of Stars with views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, and The Peak Tower Rooftop, affording breathtaking views of the city below.

Bridget Clancey, student at Hong Kong Baptist University and avid Tai Chi-er said: “There really is nothing better than waking up just as the sun is rising and joining a group of likeminded people to share it with.  A session of Tai Chi gets your brain in gear for the day and is good for all ages, not to mention super- healthy.”

The hold Tai Chi has on it’s Hong Kong followers is plain to see, as locals spin their arms in the air, much to the bemusement of foreigners, squeezing a session en route, indulging in some deep breathing as they rush to their 9-5, nobody is willing to let the economy boom of Asia’s world city take away underlying chinese traditions.

It is in the blood of the people and the pulse of the city.

Hong Kong is the best place to learn Tai Chi

Need to Know

  • Where-Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront, The Peak Tower
  • When –Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 8am-9am
  • Price –Free
  • Contact– +852 2508 1234 ( Hong Kong Tourism Hotline)
  • Booking required.

Dive into fitness like a local

February 5, 2012

Perhaps not the most exotic option when it comes to exploring recreational sports a good 15 hours across the pond, however the swimming opportunities and facilities tucked away in this corner of the globe are far from ordinary.

A blustery, rainy Saturday afternoon turned out to be the perfect time to descend on Lantau Island’s beaches for an afternoon swim.

Set amid the dramatic peaks and in full view of the many islands dotting the surrounding coastline, the experience provided a welcome and stark contrast to the hurried reality of the CBD just 30 minute ferry away.

A few laps in, and it’s easy to see why Hong Kong’s outdoor netted bathing areas are such a hit with the refreshingly health conscious locals and expats alike.

Although a winter visit to one of Hong Kong’s swim spots may be slightly off-putting, the temperate South China Sea makes the transition a little easier, and the gentle ocean waves mean a little extra effort goes a long way to keeping warm.

Alice Liang, secretary from Hong Kong Island said: “On the weekends, many locals travel for up to 90 minutes in order to go for a swim on a clean beach.  I often go to Sai Kung in the New Territories just to get away from the hustle and breathe in some fresh air!”

If city- dipping is more your thing, phase one of architectural swimming project, Farrell has just been completed.  The project houses  two outdoor pools, an indoor multi-purpose pool and several jacuzzis, and is located in kennedy town.

Stephen Wong, swimming instructor and coach at Sha Tin swimming pool said: “Sha Tin is just one of a selection of pools, both indoor and outdoor, run by Hong Kongleisure services (www.lcsd.gov).  We also have a wide range of well serviced and maintained natural spots for swimming, such as Refuse Bay on Hong Kong Island, which is netted from sharks and other marine life.  Hong Kong is recognised as a perfect swimming destination for locals and tourists worldwide.”

So for beach dipping, mountain gazing and a killer workout in a tropical climate, there is really nothing better than a good old fashioned swim.

How to get there:

Lantau Island: Take the MTR to central, change to the Ferry Pier, and board the boat leaving from Pier 4.

Sha Tin: Take the MTR to Sha Tin on the East Line Rail.

Farrell: Take the MTR to Shau_Kei_Wan  and change to the Kennedy Town tram service http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_Tramways