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Exploring Hong Kong's rich duality

By Ashley Strickland, Special to CNN
  • With an intense urban center and outlying natural beauty, Hong Kong is a paradox
  • Take advantage of Hong Kong's cooler fall weather and explore its scenic islands
  • Explore Hong Kong via tram or ferry for an inexpensive, fun way to sightsee

Editor's note: CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at destinations for the wanderer at heart. This week, we're looking at Hong Kong. Each week, we'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals, and the best photos and stories from readers. Next week, we'll journey to Dubai, so please stop by CNN iReport if you've got photos or tips to share.

(CNN) -- With its intense urban center and outlying natural beauty, Hong Kong's intriguing, paradoxical nature beckons you to come for a visit.

A thriving metropolis ablaze with millions of scintillating lights is only one side of this city's allure. An extension of Hong Kong, its islands and green expanses offer respite and serenity if a calm vacation is what you crave.

"I find it fascinating that Hong Kong has a huge population living in a small area, yet still has large areas of preserved nature," iReporter Emilyinhk said. "I never expected that in just a few minutes you could be in a quiet, rural area, far from the pollution and crowds of the city."

Challenge yourself to soak up the split personality of Hong Kong's spirit. Until you do, visitors and natives alike say you haven't experienced the "real Hong Kong."

Hong Kong: Metropolis on the brink of beauty

Yvonne Chan lives in Hong Kong, and she is still captivated by all that her city has to offer. Her must-do list is just a taste of the experiences you can have: "Tram up to the Peak, light show by Tsim Sha Tsui's Avenue of Stars overlooking the Victoria Harbour at 8 p.m. every evening, shopping in Causeway Bay, drinks in Lan Kwai Fong, Big Buddha at Ngong Ping, and for those with kids, a day at Ocean Park."

Below, iReporters share their tips for making the most of your time in Hong Kong.

First-timer tips

It's easy to get caught up in the rush of Hong Kong's bustling city area. Try to see and experience as much as you can, but before you jet off, take note of these tips.

Hong Kong's summers are notoriously hot and humid, so plan accordingly. iReporter George Kreif recommends traveling in the fall, "when the temperature is (almost) bearable." But if you do go during the summer, dress as lightly as possible.

Hong Kong is also worth exploring on foot. "If you are a first-time traveler, I recommend getting a map and some good walking shoes," iReporter Ray Kirby said.

This especially comes in handy when looking at Hong Kong's scenery.

"Don't forget to explore Hong Kong's green side," iReporter Shari Nijman said. "The city is amazing, but most of Hong Kong consists of lush, green nature with fantastic hiking trails!"

If you feel swept away by all of your options, embrace it. Hong Kong can be dazzling and overwhelming. Let yourself explore.

"By all means, if it's your first visit to Hong Kong, don't be afraid to be a 'tourist,' " Kreif said. "Visit Victoria Peak, travel to Kowloon -- be sure to visit 'Flower' and 'Bird Streets' via the Star Ferry. Kowloon at night is ablaze with neon commercial lights, a beautiful sight to behold. The enthusiastic crowds you will encounter there will energize your spirit after a long day of sightseeing. Not to worry, it's perfectly safe to be out and about at night."

If you've got shopping on your mind, invest in an Octopus Card, Chan suggests.

"The card is available anywhere and is accepted by all transport providers as well as major convenience stores ... beats carrying small change!" she said.

But perhaps best of all, keep this advice in mind: "My tip for traveling in Hong Kong is to explore and enjoy all the wonderful things and places this country offers," iReporter Lia Ocampo said.

Five tastemakers of Hong Kong's dining scene

Getting around

Perhaps more so than most other cities, Hong Kong is known for its various modes of transportation. Trams are perfect for tourists and locals alike and can take you almost anywhere you want to go.

"We are budget travelers," Maureen McLeod said. "We would strongly recommend taking the tram for both the low fare and the view of so much of the city which one gets, particularly from the front seats on the second level. One can see most of the city for only two Hong Kong dollars."

Ferries, such as the Star Ferry, are also very popular in the city and for navigating around the islands.

"Take a ferry out to one of the islands or a bus into the New Territories," Emilyinhk said. "Many of these places are less than an hour away from Central. The city itself is breathtaking, but unless you get out and see the rural areas, you haven't truly experienced Hong Kong. From a beach in Sai Kung or a hiking trail on Lantau Island, you would never believe you were still in Hong Kong."

Fast-paced Kowloon is rich with the city life that entices many visitors to Hong Kong. Crowded night markets and street food vendors give off the vibe that this is the "real Hong Kong."

If you want to slow down after a night in Kowloon, explore relaxing Lantau Island. "Something about having to take a boat there makes it seem like you've landed on the other side of the world," iReporter Bo Brennan said.

The islands also offer more strenuous recreation for those wanting an adventure.

"If you're into hiking -- and still have the energy -- take a ferry out to Lamma Island, where you will find a lengthy, well-maintained hiking trail that offers amazing view of the surrounding islands and ocean," Kreif said.

One day in Hong Kong

"If you only have one day in Hong Kong, there is one thing you must do," Brennan said. "It will be a memory you will keep for years to come. Take a boat out on the harbor at sunset. Watch the sun slowly sink behind islands in the far distance. Look at the dying light glint off the buildings of Hong Kong's amazing skyline.

"That experience is worth its weight in Hong Kong dollars, and it will be one memory you will tell your children and grandchildren, inspiring the next generation to go out and experience everything the world has to offer."

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