Firecrackers explode on the streets, their echoes reverberated from the tiny shop fronts, their metallic booms and bangs travelling up the skyscraper facades into the skies amid blazes of thick smoke. The sounds of drums, gongs and cymbals – played feverishly by young men, flexing their muscles to get as much noise out of their instruments as possible – and the wafting, smoky smell of burning incense accompany the larger-than-life lions and dragons dancing playfully through the streets.
It’s Chinese New Year on January 31st, possibly the most joyous and social annual celebration on earth, recognised in Hong Kong with the same superstitious rituals, joviality and fun with which it has been staged for centuries. Bright yellows and reds, along with the outfits of the paper lions that look kitschy to the untrained Western eye, transform the glitzy Asian metropolis into a Mardi Gras-like party. Whoever is visited by the lion-dancers – businesses, hotels and families alike – can feel lucky, as the lions and their noises are chasing off not only the previous year, but also bad luck for the coming year and evil spirits. The Lion Dances are held on the days after the New Year has begun but preparations for the festivities start days before, when everyone cleans their houses and offices to wipe off the last year; many paint or decorate their windows and doors in red and with paper cut-outs showing symbols for wealth, joy, longevity and a marriage blessed with children.
On New Year’s Eve, families feast on a sumptuous meal of many courses, open their doors and windows to usher in good luck and the New Year, and at midnight, welcome it with fireworks and firecrackers.
Hong Kong offers the most spectacular firework shows of all the Chinese cities, when hundreds of thousands of spectators watch the sky as the dazzling display illuminates the world famous skyline and Victoria Peak.
The next day, as festivities continue, walk around the city, visit the flower markets, where the Chinese buy their ‘lucky’ blossoms to decorate homes, and tour the temples, where locals pray for good luck and prosperity. As always in Chinese life, the mundane joins the spiritual, so whatever you do, you will feel as if you are immersed in this special event.
How To Spend Ten Days in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a compact place, with two main urban areas; Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Separated by Victoria Harbour, they are interconnected by a short ferry or underground journey. Outlying areas such as Lantau Island and the historic ex-Portuguese colony of Macau are fascinating too.
Day 1 to 2 – Head directly into the city and spend your first two days in chaotic and colourful Kowloon, with its glowing neon lights and traditional markets. Shop on Nathan Road and meander through stalls peddling authentic goods like the Jade Market on Kansu Street. In the evenings, visit the Temple Street Night Market and sample the dim sum.
Day 3 – Cruise the harbour by setting off on one of the Star Ferries to the Downtown area of Central. Once there, start at the Statue Square with its heady mix of historic buildings and awe-inspiring modern architecture. Later, stroll along Hollywood Road and visit the mystical Man Mo Temple. Finally, ride the Peak Railway to Victoria Peak to see the famous view of Hong Kong’s skyline twinkling below.
Day 4 to 6 – Leave the city and visit two islands nearby. First, board the ferry to Cheung Chau Island, a beautiful, quaint fishing community with shipyards, harbours and temples. Then move on to Lantau Island and visit the Big Buddha with astonishing views of the mountains and Po Lin Monastery with mouth watering vegetarian food served by the monks. Spend the evenings exploring the waterfront back in Kowloon, make sure you take in the Symphony of Lights; an impressive light and sound show that engulfs the skyline at 8pm every night, best viewed from the waterfront.
Day 7 – Have a day in Hong Kong Disneyland enjoying the much-loved Disney attractions like Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, slow the pace for a couple of hours in the afternoon with a picnic in the charming Arboretum.
Day 8 to 10 – As a grand finale to your Hong Kong experience, spend your last few days absorbing the customs and traditions of the New Year celebrations. Watch the incredible fireworks by the harbour, join in the lively street parades and shop at the fantastic markets.
Hong Kong Disneyland – A recent addition to the Disney empire, Hong Kong’s version has all the traditional Disney characters that you would expect to keep children (and big kids) entertained. In a bizarre contrast to Chinese Kowloon, walk down Main Street USA and take a step back in time to America of yesteryear, jump on a spaceship in Tomorrowland and finish with a spin around the park on the back of a large plastic elephant. All are as chaotic as the Hong Kong that you left behind at those magical gates.
Dos and Don’ts
– Don’t even think of renting a car to explore downtown Hong Kong or when visiting the surrounding countryside. Public transport and taxis are easily accessible.
– Don’t be shy to haggle in the markets; haggling is a Hong Kong past time and is expected. See a bag or a pair of shoes you like that’s a little out of your price range? Haggle with the seller to get the price you want.
– Avoid going up to the Peak on weekends, on Sundays in particular, as throngs of tourists block the view.
For more exciting destination ideas, browse these China pages and start planning your next adventure.
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