By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter
HONG KONG has always been a popular vacation destination among Filipinos. Shopping districts, food hubs, the Victoria Harbour, and Disneyland are some of the destinations that come to mind.
According to data from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), there were 894,821 Filipino tourist visits to Hong Kong in 2018, an increase from 705,319 in 2013 attributed to the economic stability of Philippines and an increase in flight capacity.
In an e-mail to BusinessWorld, HKTB Regional Director for South East Asia Raymond Chan said that “family focus” is what makes the Philippines a unique tourism market.
It was this writer’s second time to visit Hong Kong during the media familiarization tour hosted by the HKTB from May 6 to 10. Here are new places, activities and ways to travel around the city:
THE TRAMORAMIC TOUR
While walking is a common way of exploring the city, traveling via tram offers tourists a chance to appreciate the picturesque urban landscape.
The Hong Kong TramOramic Tour is a one-hour ride on a 1920s-style open-top tram. Our tour began at the Causeway Bay Terminus and ended at the Western Market Terminus.
While aboard the tram, passengers learn the history of the city and the current lifestyle of locals through an audio guide (there are eight language options, including Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, and Russian). Despite the rain during our tram ride, we still opted to stay at the upper deck to better see the city landmarks and the busy streets. The TramOramic Tour also includes free Wi-Fi, on-board videos, and a picture gallery of past and present Hong Kong.
OCEAN PARK SEAL ENCOUNTER
The room temperature was 15 degrees Celsius when we arrived at Ocean Park Hong Kong’s North Pole Adventure. Fifteen harbor seals were swimming on one side of the pool.
It was the second day of our visit and two writers (including myself) were accompanied by two Ocean Park employees to participate in the Seal Encounter program.
Prior to the encounter, we were led to a locker room where the staff gave a lecture on the various species and behavior of seals, and the threats of unsustainable environmental activities to their existence.
Before we went out to meet with the seals, we had to wear two full-body layers of protective waterproof gear and a life vest. Cellphones and other gadgets were not allowed in the pool area. We were told that if we accidentally dropped these devices in the water, the seals could mistake them for fish and immediately swallow them.
The water felt very cold even with the gear on. We were assisted and made to sit on the side of the pool while maintaining the safety posture — arms crossed below the chest. We met a harbor seal named Lisa, whose fur felt like smooth baby hair. We were allowed to touch only her back and stomach since other body parts, such as the head and tail, are sensitive. Afterward, we had our photos taken with the seals and we also fed them raw sardines. When we waved goodbye, the seals did the same by waving their flippers accompanied by splashes of water.
The seal encounter accommodates four participants per tour. For more information, visit https://www.oceanpark.com.hk/en/park-experience/get-closer-to-the-animals/seal-encounter.
HONG KONG-ZHUHAI-MACAU BRIDGE
It was a rainy afternoon when we went on a 45-minute drive to Macau through the newly constructed 55-kilometer Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge which connects Hong Kong to cities throughout the Greater Bay Area of southern China.
The bridge, which opened in October 2018, is the first major combined road-and-tunnel sea-crossing in the Greater Bay Area, spanning the sea from an artificial island near Hong Kong International Airport to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai.
Immigration processing is required at both ends of the trip at the passenger clearance building. A closed road permit and vehicle insurance which are valid in the three cities is a requirement for cars that will go on the bridge.
“With the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge bridge, we would like to showcase and promote the places around the Greater Bay area that are accessible and convenient for tourists to visit,” Mr. Chan, the HKTB regional officer, wrote to BusinessWorld.
For more information, visit https://www.hzmb.gov.hk/en/.
OLD MACAU WALKING TOUR
This hour-long tour takes you from Rua do Visconde Paco de Arcos to the Ruins of St. Paul’s on Rua de Sao Paulo.
The narrow cobblestone streets of old Macau are lined with preserved two-story buildings, which are either residences or small shops. The distinct structures are painted wooden double doors with multiple locks, and windows textured with oyster shells.
European and Eastern architecture merged as we arrived at the busy streets of Senado Square — a shopping hub with a variety of brands, Chinese street food vendors, and fresh flower stalls.
We ended the walking tour by climbing the steps to the Ruins of St. Paul’s Church, which was completed in 1644 after it caught fire in 1595 and 1601. The Church was again destroyed in a fire in 1835 and only its faÇade was left. Listed as part of the Historic Centre of Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ruins are covered with carvings of flowers, celestial bodies, and Chinese inscriptions.
For more information on the walking tours, visit http://en.macaotourism.gov.mo/plan/walking_tours.php?id=1334.
THE XIQU CENTRE
At the junction of Canton Road and Austin Road West in Tsim Sha Tsui at the West Kowloon Cultural District stands the Xiqu Centre. The 28,164-square-meter lantern-like theater which opened in January stages Cantonese operas and Chinese traditional theater.
The eight-story building houses a 1,050-seat Grand Theater, a 450-square meter Atrium, the Tea House Theatre, a seminar hall, and eight studios. Its other facilities include a tea house and a souvenir shop.
Inside the Tea House Theater, viewers sit on armchairs with small side tables. Dim sum and tea (which remained warm as it sat in its metal cup compartment) were served as we watched a show by the Tea House Rising Stars Troupe. The 90-minute program includes a musical number using traditional Chinese instruments, narration by a moderator about the art form, and two opera excerpts.
The excerpt of the Cantonese opera that evening was a story of a female ghost who visited her living lover at his home to warn him of a murder plot against him. The actors, dressed in traditional gowns, sang in distinctly high-pitched legato melodies.
For information, visit https://www.westkowloon.hk/en/home.
HONG KONG DESIGN DISTRICT
To provide tourists with a different way to explore the city, the Hong Kong Design Centre launched Design District Hong Kong (#ddHK) — a three-year creative tourism project spanning 2018–2021 in the Wan Chai district.
A component called #ddPaintHKWALLS features over 30 murals by local and international artists. It was done to position Wan Chai as an “open-air design district gallery.” The public spaces include the Morrison Hill Swimming Pool, Tang Shiu Kin Victoria Government Secondary School, and VTC Tower.
“We looked into the buildings, whether they’re historical or privately owned. If it’s historical, we cannot touch the walls. We also needed to find the consent of the district council (before doing the artworks),” Design District Hong Kong project consultant Sam Lam told BusinessWorld during the walking tour, of how the locations where chosen.
“We are not doing an art project. We are doing placemaking which means we want to create community engagement,” Ms. Lam said.