‘Fragrant Harbour’ – the Chinese translation of Hong Kong – couldn’t be more appropriate for cruise passengers getting their first glimpse of such a frenetic, romantic, almost absurdly beautiful port. Indeed, life centres on this natural, safe anchorage for the ships of every nation which dock for a share of the trading action.
A seven-minute ride on the green and white Star Ferries – which depart regularly for Hong Kong Island from their pier close by the Ocean Terminal – gives you a grandstand perspective of this Xanadu city. The vibrant backdrop of sky-scraping office towers and apartment buildings pushing their way up the steep slopes towards mountain peaks mirror the ferries and freighters, cabin cruisers and sampans that zigzag around the harbour. By night, China’s prized capitalist tool glows like a new Great Wall of neon – with an abundance of adverts for Japanese merchandise.
For an overview of this pattern of islands, take the tram ride from Central up to Victoria Peak on the 120 year-old funicular that rises 1,312 feet to Hong Kong’s summit. Here you not only get breath-taking views, but there is the added attraction of an insight into this former Crown Colony of 7.3 million inhabitants, both in terms of geography and social standing.
There is nothing to do in Hong Kong, and there is everything to do. There are no real sights to speak of: no great museums or monuments, nothing on the must-see list except for Aberdeen Harbour – Hong Kong’s oldest settlement with thousands of people spending their entire lives on junks and sampans.
But there is Hong Kong itself: a cacophony of noises, colours, smells; a dense concentration of humanity spilling out onto the streets, buying and selling, shouting, making money, spending money, playing mahjong, drinking tea, eating plenty. It is a relentless mosaic of oriental and occidental lifestyles.
Hong Kong has a complexity that defies definition, but as a cruise destination it is unsurpassed.