The country has the most personalised registration plates per car, the largest TV in the world, and is no.1 for its skyscraper and high-rise count.
In practical terms this means the former jewel in the British Empire’s crown is proudly busy, large and competitive.
A visit to its retail hub Nathan Road in Kowloon proves this is where thousands of shoppers throng the street day and night looking for a bargain, while gangs of men try to persuade them to try a tailor-made suit or shepherd them into a small shop selling the latest digital cameras.
Kowloon Park by Nathan Road isn’t an oasis of calm but a vibrant, busy chance to check out rare birds (caged) and various martial arts demonstrations.
In other words Nathan Road is very much like Tottenham Court Road in London, but with thousands more people, shops and opportunities to part with your cash.
City breaks like this might not sound ideal if you want to unwind, but scratch beneath its shiny, chrome-plated surface and Hong Kong has a lot to offer.
To find some tranquillity in this cosmopolitan melting pot you have to turn to religion, and in this case Buddhism.
Ngong Ping on Lantau Island is home to the Tian Tan Buddha statue – another record, this time the world’s tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha at 34m, prior to 2007 – located high in the mountainous area of the region.
Lantau Island has a relatively low population density – a mere 45,000 people live there, as opposed to the 1.4 million who reside on Hong Kong island – and is home to the Po Lin Monastery, where after being blown away by the sight of the statue you can learn about the Buddhist way of life.
The statue, known locally as Big Buddha, is reached by Ngong Ping 360 cable car, a long sky ride that takes you above the mountains and shoreline.
It’s an amazing experience being high up in the clouds, and excellent preparation for the serene contemplation offered in the monastery grounds.
The monastery was built in 1906 and is open to the public during the day. Going there is an excellent way to learn about the monks’ way of life, and the religious inhabitants make wooden bracelets in silence as part of their meditation, which are sold around the grounds.
The statue has its right hand raised to signify serenity (not “halt, tourist!” as I first presumed) and it is surrounded by six smaller bronze figures, all seated, that are apparently praising and offering Big Buddha gifts.
It’s breathtaking to walk up the steps to see these figures, and when you gaze at the view
of the mountains – Lantau Peak is the second-highest mountain in Hong Kong – you notice the air is cleaner and cooler.
You realise why this is a location picked for its calmness.
Suddenly the rush to check in at the hotel, the delays at passport control (never a grow a beard if your picture has you cleanly shaven as Chinese officials will pounce on you) and a hectic itinerary become a thing of the past.
Looks like it’s time for a beer, then. By the cable car terminal is Ngong Ping Village, a 15,000 sq m site designed with traditional-style Chinese architecture. It offers tea houses, bars and restaurants.
Carlsberg signs – attached to the buildings created with a feng shui and Daoism influence – flap in the wind.
The amalgamation of eastern and western influence seems baffling but it is a relaxing place to unwind.
Watching the sunset here is breathtaking though because of the altitude it does get a bit cold, so be prepared.
The MRT, Hong Kong’s version of the Tube (actually calling it a ‘version’ of the Tube is a huge disservice to this state-of-the-art public transport system) maintains the same temperature at all times of the day with its air conditioning, which often lures you into a false sense of what the weather’s like.
It’s worth basing a day around this trip, as if you’re in Hong Kong any length of time you will need a break from the relentless hustle and bustle. According to the tourist board it’s one of the top destinations for visitors.
It must come above Disney World – you’d be mad to pick Mickey Mouse over a huge bronze Buddha.
Top five things to do in Hong Kong
1. The Zoological and Botanical Gardens
The 600 species of trees, shrubs and plants could fool you into thinking Hong Kong is a green territory.
Numerous animals – including jaguars and pumas – stalk the grounds while birds and monkeys can also be seen.
This may not sound amazing, but the best time to go is in the morning, when exponents of the Chinese art of shadow-boxing (tai chi chuan) show off their skills on the Fountain Terrace.
Sit back and watch someone else exercise: my perfect holiday.
2. Bird Market, Kowloon
On paper this sounds a strange place to visit, but in the mornings numerous bird enthusiasts congregate with their songbirds while having morning tea.
A wonderful way to start the day.
3. Temple Street night market
Absolutely phenomenal if you’re suffering from insomnia or just nearby after a night out. This market fills your senses with its numerous colourful stalls offering food, crafts and Chinese oddities – just the place for souvenirs. Should you want a late-night snack while someone reads your palm, this is the place to go.
4. Hong Kong Space Museum/Museum of History/Museum of Art
Located in the Tsim Sha Tsui Cultural Complex, all three venues can be visited in a full day.
The Space Museum has one of the world’s largest planetariums and is a must-see for anyone interested in space travel.
The Museum of History houses a treasure trove of archaeology and photographs detailing the history of Hong Kong, while the Museum of Art is excellent for viewing Chinese paintings, drawings and sculptures.
5. Kowloon Park
The park, based on the Jiangnan garden style of the early Qing Dynasty, is one of the few places you can escape the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.
Small man-made waterfalls and pagodas offer a peaceful place for contemplation.
Eating and Drinking in Hong Kong
Spoilt for choice
Escalator City sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick, but the nickname for Hong Kong Island’s Central-Mid-levels escalators is apt.
The longest outdoor-covered escalator system in the world serves the many bars and restaurants in Western District, but bizarrely has no big attraction at its 135m peak – I expected a theme park but found only a small hotel.
The 800m conveyor belt shepherds tourists up and down the district, so if they see a shop or a bar they like they can hop off and visit.
The food here is very cosmopolitan and the Western-style restaurants mingle with outlets selling more traditional Chinese fare.
It’s also one of the most popular places for a night out for the ex-pat community.
For traditional Chinese food, Kowloon City is the best place to go. Formerly home to a Walled City (now demolished, but some remnants can still be seen) the district, described as the blue-collar Hong Kong, is excellent for local delicacies.
Street food on Nga Tsin Wai Road is of a surprisingly high standard, especially if you like dim sum (dumplings), pork buns and fried fish dishes.
Kowloon City Market on the top floor is excellent for food stalls, with a lot of people indulging in ‘steamboat’ or ‘hot pot’.
This is where you are presented with a hot bowl of soup (sometimes two types – chilli and clear) and uncooked meat, fish and vegetables on skewers.
You then place what you want to eat in the pot and wait for it to cook.
This is a cheap, popular and sociable way to eat.
Bottles of beer are also very reasonable compared to pub prices.
Luxury eating in Hong Kong is all the rage.
The Mask of Si Chuen in Tsim Sha Tsui is popular in the evenings, and the food is luxurious.
It offers Western alternatives – such as burgers – but you’d be a fool to eat those or dead-set against any spicy food.
For a real high-end of dining experience (more than £100 a head), try the restaurants in Hong Kong’s five-star hotels.
For example The Caprice in the Four
Seasons offers French food in a chandeliered dining saloon.
Chinese New Year
To say Chinese New Year is celebrated in Hong Kong is an understatement.
Everywhere turns orange – it’s customary to give your friends and family orange trees in the run-up to the big day – and there’s a general sense of revelry.
Although the weather may not be great (it falls in late January to February), it’s a superb time to visit as bars fill with people singing, gambling and throwing their inhibitions to the wind, and the streets stay lively till all hours.