Central District / Victoria, Hong Kong Island
Victoria, now better known as the Central District, is the official capital of Hong Kong and its throbbing business center, situated half way along the north coast of Hong Kong Island. The price of land in this area has soared to astronomical heights, and it is now a district of high-rise blocks occupied by banks and commercial firms which have almost completely displaced the handsome old buildings of the early colonial period.
Man Mo Temple is among Hong Kong Island's oldest and biggest Chinese temples. In the temple stands a statue of Mo and Man, along with other gods.
Bank of China
The imposing Bank of China Building, opened in 1989, was briefly the tallest building in Hong Kong, but was overtaken three years later by the Central Plaza in Causeway Bay, just 6m/20ft higher. However it is still one of the highest skyscrapers in the world and the sixth highest outside the USA.Sharply angular in plan, the building was designed by the internationally famed Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei and took only four years to complete. (Ieoh Ming Pei, who lives in New York, also designed the glass pyramid in the Louvre in Paris).Standing 368.5m/1209ft high, this obelisk-like edifice is dominated by triangles and pyramids, shapes considered by the adherents of feng shui to be likely to cause trouble and unrest. However, as superstition is now officially regarded in China as feudalistic and outmoded the Chinese were happy to build the offices in accordance with Pei's plans. Nevertheless, the fact that they still believe in the magical powers of certain numbers was clearly indicated in the date aimed at for the official opening, namely 8.8.(19)88, a highly propitious combination of figures; unfortunately building delays meant that it was not completed in time.The former offices of the Bank of China, at 2A Des Voeux Road, now house the Tsui Museum of Art, which has a collection of over 3000 Chinese antiquities (ceramics, bronzes, woodcarving, etc.).
Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank
The imposing offices of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in Queen's Road cost almost £900 million/US $1300 million, making this the most expensive office building in the world - even dearer than the neighboring 70-story Bank of China of 1989. It has 52 storys, is almost 179m/590ft high, and houses a working population of 3500.Designed by the British architect Sir Norman Foster and built in only two and a half years, the building is well worth a visit. The site was originally occupied by a 1930s-style building; the only items preserved from this were the two bronze lions known as Stitt and Stephen which now guard the main entrance; in accordance with Chinese tradition they had also protected the entrance to the previous office building.The lighting system inside the tower is unusual. A computer-controlled mirror on the south front reflects the light of the sun on to a second mirror above the central well, and from there 120 built-in directional antennae beam daylight down into the main hall. Other features include the dining room in the penthouse and the helicopter landing-pad on the roof, reminiscent of the upper deck of an aircraft carrier (neither is open to visitors).
Zoological and Botanical Gardens
One of the city's few "green lungs", the Zoological and Botanical Gardens were founded in 1864 and opened to the public in 1871, and are now managed by the municipal authorities. They lie near the center of Victoria, 10 minutes from the Hilton Hotel.The Botanical Garden (area 5.4 hectares/13 acres) offers an excellent overview of tropical and subtropical flora, with over 600 species of trees, shrubs and plants (fig-trees, palms, rubber trees, conifers and a great variety of flowers). Labels give information about their place of origin, habitat and characteristics.Adjoining the Botanical Garden is the Zoological Garden, established after the Second World War, which has one of the largest collections of birds (some 250 species, including a number of endangered species), together with monkeys, jaguars, pumas, cranes, flamingos and various smaller species. An important responsibility of the Zoo is the breeding of animals in captivity in order to ensure the survival of endangered species. Its successes in this field have given it an international reputation.Early morning visitors can see devotees of the Chinese art of shadow-boxing (tai chi chuan) performing their exercises on Fountain Terrace.
Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware
The Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware, opened in 1984, is housed in the oldest Western-style building still existing in Hong Kong, in a neo-classical style typical of Hong Kong's 19th century architecture. It was originally the headquarters of the commander-in-chief of the British forces in Hong Kong. After their withdrawal it was completely restored, with financial aid from the state, and opened up to the public.The nucleus of this very rich and interesting collection, mainly consisting of gifts from Dr K. S. Lo, is composed of some 500 items of tea ware from the period of the Warring Dynasties (475-221 BC) up to the present day, the Yixing teapots being particularly notable. Picture-boards in the eight exhibition rooms describe in detail the fine art of preparing tea.
Address: 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Hong Kong
Opening hours: 10am-5pm; Closed: Tue
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Day after Christmas, St Stephen's Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26), Chinese New Year
Entrance fee: FREE
Useful tips: Photography prohibited. Closed on the first three days of the Chinese New Year.
Below Queen's Road, Connaught Road winds along past the ferry stations. It starts in the east near Jardine House (a high-rise building, previously the Connaught Centre). On the northeastern side is the General Post Office. Near the Star Ferry Pier is the Family Bookshop, run by the South China Morning Post, which has a wide range of literature on Hong Kong. Further east are the Queen's Pier, on the harbor, and Edinburgh Place, with the City Hall which houses the municipal offices and also a concert hall, theater and exhibition rooms. On Cotton Pier Drive, a little way to the south, is Flagstaff House, built in 1884 and formerly the headquarters of the British commander-in-chief, now the Museum of Teaware, with a remarkable collection of valuable tea ware from several centuries.West of the City Hall along Victoria Harbour are the landing-stages of the ferries to Kowloon (Star Ferry) and the various islands, extending to the new Macau Terminal (hydrofoils to and from Macau).
Hong Kong City Hall
Hong Kong's first town hall, built in 1869, was pulled down in 1933 under a land reclamation scheme. The new City Hall was built on a site reclaimed from the sea and opened to the public in 1962. It is the seat of the municipal administration and at the same time a cultural center for the people of Hong Kong.The complex includes a concert hall seating 1500, a theater seating 460, one large and several smaller exhibition rooms, rooms for musical recitals, film shows and lectures, art galleries, restaurants and a library. The program of events offered in the City Hall covers a very wide range - concerts of western and Chinese classical music and opera, dance and theatrical performances by local ensembles, including the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Chinese Dance Company, Hong Kong Chorus and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as by well-known international orchestras, including some from Europe. There are also various exhibitions (Chinese folk art, etc.).
The ginseng root, yellowish-gold in color and turnip-like in shape, belongs to the Araliaceae family (Panax ginseng). It is traditionally regarded as a universal remedy, but it has now become very rare, and as a result wild ginseng is now very expensive. Natural and artificial ginseng are considered to have homoeopathic prophylactic properties and are a popular aphrodisiac, particularly with the male Chinese population.In Ko Shing Street, as well as finding ginseng on sale, an ailing person can purchase every conceivable form of natural medicine used in traditional Chinese medicine. Many shops, with little in common with western chemists, employ doctors who will make an on-the-spot diagnosis and prepare a suitable medicine from a variety of ingredients.
Jervois Street is famous for its snake-dealers' shops. Every year when the cold weather sets in the Jervois Street dealers offer for sale huge numbers of snakes of all sizes and species, which form a favorite Chinese food supply during the winter. The snakes are used to make a soup which the Chinese maintain, warms the body from within and prevents the winter cold from entering their limbs.No fewer than 50,000 cobras alone are made into soup in Hong Kong every year. Since snake meat has no taste, chicken stock is added to give the soup its flavor.
Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery
The Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibits feature interactive displays that project Hong Kong's future over the next 20 years. Some of the highlights include a pedestrian promenade on Hong Kong Island stretching along the waterfront from Central to Causeway Bay and a fourth tunnel under the harbor.
The gardens and fountains in spacious Statue Square were finally completed in 1966. This has become the regular meeting-place on Saturday afternoons and evenings for children's nannies - mainly Filipinos - who gather here for a chat with their friends.
The most impressive building in the Central Distrist, however, is the Landmark, a five-story complex laid out round a large inner courtyard measuring 1860sq.m/2220sq.yds, with a fountain. Some 100 shops are housed within this complex. A variety of free entertainment is to be found here at weekends.