Dim sum, cover bands and 'junk trips'
A week's worth of travel ideas in Hong Kong
By Kevin Drew
Editor's note: Kevin Drew is CNN International's supervising editor for the Asia-Pacific region.
Hong Kong's Victoria Park is called the "people's park."
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Few places in the world pack so many contrasts in such a small space as Hong Kong.
A visitor will find many different settings here, from the urban sheen of arguably the world's most dramatic skyline, to the serenity of rural villages; from the awe-inspiring new towers in the Central District that house the world's moneymakers to the chaotic street markets in Kowloon; from upscale high-rises to the aging, gritty shops, apartment blocks and small villages that dot the region.
Variety is the charm of Hong Kong. On any given day, a visitor can head to a fishing village less than an hour from downtown, lie on a beach and shop at malls or back-alley markets. The day can wind down at world-class restaurants and musical venues before an evening out to the never-ending array of unique cafes and bars. (Gallery: Where East meets West)
Below is a day-by-day breakdown of a typical week for me, a resident of Hong Kong, and tips for those traveling here to do as the locals do:
Chances are it's a public holiday -- lord knows there are more public holidays here than even in Europe. If such a day falls on your visit, check out the local media; odds are that there'll be a parade somewhere, a festival in another place, and that public transportation such as the subway will be relatively clear of the masses.
At night, it's time to head to the Soho district for classes in tango dancing. Soho is the area in downtown Hong Kong where many expatriates live. Restaurants, bars and shops mingle with apartment blocks here for a mix of the old and new, local and international. Dancing is popular in Hong Kong, and along with the usual venues to celebrate the dance, many places offer special nights and classes that welcome the visitor as well as the resident. On this night the class is a mix of expatriate and local Chinese participants. The class is held at a café called Culture Club, and, thankfully, there's a wine bar on the premises.
The venue is the Foreign Correspondents Club, a storied institution for expatriates that today seems more important for being a window to Hong Kong's British colonial past than as a guide to the city's 21st-century future; the locals refer to the FCC as a place where "women with a past meet men with no future." The FCC has been a traditional haunt of the journalist and Western business set here. On this occasion, political satirist P.J. O'Rourke, who just so happens to have a book to promote, has dropped by to hold court. The American conservative quipster is among friends here, taking jabs at U.S. politics while praising Adam Smith's economic theories.
Afterward, dinner at Maxim's Palace, the famed City Hall dim sum emporium. One must have dim sum in Hong Kong, and this massive eatery is one of the best dining experiences in the city. The dim sum is fresh, the venue is large and is popular with locals as well as tourists, and the hostesses wear traditional Chinese garb. Located in City Hall and opposite the Queen's Pier, this eatery offers dim sum in all varieties. The servings are generous, so be sure to go with at least one other person.
The middle of the week is the perfect time to explore the outer regions of Hong Kong. Head to the village of Sai Kung -- it's tucked away on the New Territories peninsula -- for fresh seafood. Sai Kung isn't urban or suburban; it's a small hamlet set apart from the craziness of the hustle-a-buck Central District and the pirated-goods barkers in Kowloon's street stalls.
Even better, take a ferry to one of the 230-plus islands comprising Hong Kong. Seeing Hong Kong from the water is probably at the top of most people's must-do experiences. The downtown piers offer ferry trips to many islands. Favorite destinations include Lantau, the largest island in Hong Kong that is home to the airport; Disneyland; the Po Lin Monastery; and the Tian Tan Buddha, the largest uncovered outdoor bronze Buddha statue in the world. Other islands worth exploring are Lamma, which is home to fishers, farmers and commuters; and Cheung Chau, a onetime refuge for pirates that today offers beaches, quaint back alleys and many Buddhist temples.
A band performs at the Underground, a place to check out up and coming music acts.
It's time to head to the Wan Chai district to watch local pop and rock musical acts at the Underground, a regular event dedicated to nurturing local groups and providing a window into the future pop musical forces in this part of Asia. But if pop and rock isn't your style, not to worry. Music is everywhere in Hong Kong. The local symphony and world-class orchestras both play at venues such as the Hong Kong Cultural Center in Kowloon. Small, intimate jazz rooms dot the Central District.
After the Underground, it's on to sip a beverage at one of the many venues in Wan Chai. Meaning "Little Bay," Wan Chai had a reputation during the Vietnam War as an infamous red-light district. Today, only a slice of Wan Chai's past remains, as the district is home to business, shopping and entertainment.
A friend's weekend birthday celebration kicks off today with a "junk trip." In China "junk" refers to any ocean boat, but in Hong Kong, it's synonymous with a relaxing cruise with friends or strangers. Tourists easily can arrange for renting a junk, which will transport you to an island beach or village.
The Shau Kei Wan market offers fresh food for residents and visitors.
The friend's birthday congregation reunites at The Cavern, a club offering a 1970s-retro feel. The club is in Lan Kwai Fong, the two-block downtown strip of clubs and restaurants. On weekends, the venues get so packed that they allow patrons to take their drinks onto the street. The birthday entourage personally reviews the cocktail offerings and dances to a Filipino cover band. Filipino cover bands? Yes, they're somewhat ubiquitous here, playing at the Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai bars, and uncannily mimicking Western music. Advice: Keep tongue firmly planted in cheek while dancing to them.
Brunch with friends at a place of choice throughout Hong Kong. Dining and shopping stand alongside horse racing as the sport of choice in Hong Kong, so finding a good cafe offering brunch is never difficult.
Afterward, head to Victoria Park to people watch or even participate in tai chi class. Victoria Park is a true people's park: It hosts festivals and concerts as well as having public tennis and soccer courts and a public swimming pool. On the weekends, you'll see young women of Southeast Asia meet at the park. People from countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines come to Hong Kong to earn their living, with many working as domestic workers for local and upscale expatriate households.
The atmosphere at Victoria Park is laid-back, and it's is a great place to relax. After all, one needs good chi, or energy, to enjoy all that Hong Kong has to offer.
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