With its superb combination of natural setting and harbour-side skyscrapers, few ports provide such a grand entrance as Hong Kong.
You'd expect a city whose entire history as a freewheeling trading port has depended on the sea to offer a grand entrance. Hong Kong certainly won't disappoint. Cruise ships navigate scattered offshore islands before sliding into Victoria Harbour and a dazzling vista of soaring skyscrapers tangled with neon signs and backed by lush forest-draped hills. Ferries, barges and ships crowd the waterway, and you can feel the urban throb from your vantage-point on deck.
Hong Kong's main cruising hub Ocean Terminal, is right in the middle of the action on the tip of energetic Kowloon, eyeballing glittering Central across the narrow harbour. Yet even Hong Kong's second terminal offers a dramatic spot for ships to tie up. Old Hong Kong hands will recognise the name: Kai Tak Cruise Terminal has taken over the site of the former airport. If you haven't had enough startling city views from your ship, clamber onto the terminal's landscaped decks for more.
While you're in Hong Kong, whether before or after your cruise, or on a shore excursion, you'll discover a city dense with cultural attractions, museums and great street food and restaurants, as well as shopping galore. Both cruise terminals alone are shop filled; Ocean Terminal has two adjacent malls.
Electronic bargains and department-store variety tempt on Nathan Road nearby. Further into Kowloon, street markets overflow with blouses, handbags, watches and homeware. There are also eye-catching markets devoted to jade, goldfish and songbirds in little pockets of traditional Chinese culture amid the concrete.
For antique stores offering rosewood furniture, porcelain and jade, head to Hollywood Road across the harbour in Central. Then visit nearby Man Mo Temple, always smoky with incense and buzzing with visitors. This is always a stop on Hong Kong highlight tours offered by cruise companies.
Getting to Central means riding the Star Ferry, one of the world's most brilliant short rides, allowing you an alternative, commuter-eye view of the city. Don't miss the rack-railway ride up The Peak either for another perspective on Hong Kong's skyscraper-jammed harbour. Take the loop around The Peak via bamboo-lined Harlech and Lugard Roads for one of Hong Kong's most scenic - yet relatively overlooked - walks. As the path turns towards Central, a mind-boggling view over your ship in the harbour below is revealed.
Consider joining an evening tour up The Peak for the neon-glittering night view, often combined with the Symphony of Lights on the harbour. The world's largest permanent sound-and-light show combines laser beams with LED lights on skyscraper facades.
Hong Kong provides an energetic explosion of Asian urban life, but it has its quieter side too. The contrast is exhilarating. Take the time to visit parks and offshore islands and you'll discover a more contemplative side of the city. Hong Kong Park features a teahouse, orchid conservatories and an excellent walk-through aviary within sight of Central's office towers. Alternatively, a shore excursion to Stanley brings you to a laidback beachside suburb with a colourful market and great seafood restaurants.
Lantau Island - which you might visit for Disneyland Resort if you have children - has remote beaches, kilometres of walking tracks through whispering forests of pine and azalea, and an ornate dragon-topped monastery at Po Lin whose giant Buddha gazes over the South China Sea. Among other shore excursions that provide a delightful alternative look at Hong Kong is one to the mainland New Territories to see family shrines, clan houses, a scholar's mansion and preserved wetlands in an area that remains surprisingly green.
Hong Kong is region's leading cruise hub, with easy access by air, and it sits in the middle of the world's fastest-growing cruise destination. Many cruise itineraries visit Hong Kong on pan-Asian voyages that might also take in Shanghai, Busan in Korea and various ports in Japan and the Philippines, where a highlight is Puerto Princesa, a national park featuring caves and an underground river.
Hong Kong to Singapore cruises explore Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Alternatively, concentrate on Vietnam with round-trip cruises out of Hong Kong that take in busy port cities such as Ho Chi Minh, laidback coastal town Nha Trang and the natural wonders of Halong Bay.
Even when you're in port in Hong Kong, you have the chance to explore elsewhere. Most cruise lines have full-day tours to Macau, the former Portuguese colony turned epicentre of nightlife, gambling and Las Vegas-style entertainment. Some provide overnight tours to Beijing and the Great Wall, or to Xian to see the terracotta warriors.
This article brought to you by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
For more information on Hong Kong cruise stopovers visit www.discoverhongkong.com/au
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