They are countries inextricably linked to their massive neighbour, full of eastern traditions yet inspiring in their modernity; Megan McCormick goes in search of two places forging forward into the twenty-first century, China’s ‘little dragons’ Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Mindful of her budget in one of the world’s most expensive cities, Megan checks in at Hong Kong’s infamous Chungking Mansions and finds that it’s actually pretty good value for money. Taking a trip from mainland Kowloon to Central on the Star Ferry which carries 100,000 people per day, Megan gets to grips with the combination of traditional and modern with an exploration of the theories of feng shui which governed the construction of some of the skyscrapers in its impressive skyline. After a ride along the world’s longest escalator she takes the Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak for some fantastic views of the city.
Megan goes to Wong Kai Fin Temple, devoted to the art of fortune telling and one of Hong Kong’s most popular temples. Here she follows the traditional visits a fortune-teller who tells her that, as a child of the year of the Rat, she shouldn’t gamble. Still, at Happy Valley Racecourse in the centre of the city she has a flutter on the horses, a pastime that the Hong Kongese are particularly partial to. As foretold, she loses and to commiserate she hits the town in style at the city’s trendiest club, Dragon Eyes.
For a break from the city, Megan travels into the New Territories, to the island of Tap Mum Chau, stopping off in Lin Village to make a wish at the Wishing Tree. The island is a real breath of rural Hong Kong, giving you an idea of what the city used to be like – just a string of fishing villages. For a complete contrast, she crosses the border to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone where cheap imports of Chinese goods and a flagrant disregard for piracy laws make for a truly indulgent shopping spree.
The next morning she’s back on Kowloon‘s waterfront for an early morning group tai chi lesson from a plugged in master of the martial art. Inspired, she meets Bruce Law, one of Hong Kong’s legendary movie stunt men and gets to star in her very own action movie. Then it’s off to another mainstay of Hong Kong, Sam’s Tailor, established in 1957. Since then it’s clothed some of the world’s most famous people including Bill Clinton and Luciano Pavarotti.
After all that she needs to take a break and heads for City Hall, the place for Hong Kong’s lunch of choice, dim sum. Revitalised, she heads for Shek O for a spot of paragliding; then it’s over to the picturesque Lantau Island to marvel at the world’s biggest, sitting, bronze, outdoor Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery.
Bidding Hong Kong a fond farewell, Megan flies over to the ‘beautiful island’ of Taiwan and touches down in the capital Taipei where she stays in the aptly named Grand Hotel. She visits the Martyrs’ Temple, a shrine to all those who have died in China’s wars and a reminder of the relationship between the countries. After a brief history lesson, Megan catches sight of Taipei’s newest landmark, the mirrored 101 Tower, which is winning the race for tallest building in the world at 1671 feet high. She dons a hard hat and takes a trip up it with tower’s architect.
Then it’s off to explore a cornerstone of Tapei life – the night market – where she visits ‘Snake Alley‘ where you can pick up all sorts of snake products that have medicinal or aphrodisiac properties.
Out of the city Megan rents a car and drives through the stunning Taroko Gorge and goes hiking to a hot springs. Then it’s off to the modern temple at Puli where she attends the 4.30am morning prayers alongside 1200 nuns and 300 monks and takes a tour of the rest of the building. She climbs Jade Mountain, near Puli, the highest in the region where she watches a glorious sunrise.
She ends her trip on Orchid Island, Taiwan’s most remote island and home to its smallest indigenous tribe, the Yami people. She explores the island on scooter and ends the day on the beach where she witnesses a traditional Yami ritual.
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