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Hong Kong: a city of contrasts

April 2012

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As Hong Kong marks the 15th anniversary of its return to China, former governor Chris Patten goes back to his old stomping ground to track down old haunts and unearth new treasures
View from the Peak Tower, Hong Kong Island
Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

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It's much the same Hong Kong - free, bustling and comfortable with its own identity

Unique is one of the most over-used words in the English language. So where are the real one-offs? Venice, for sure. Sydney, perhaps. Hong Kong, absolutely. There just isn't anywhere like it, from the harbour crowded by a forest of ever taller skyscrapers, to the street markets of Central and Kowloon, to the beautiful coastline of the Sai Kung East Country Park in the New Territories. You hike, walk, shove, climb, sail or take a cab (the fares must be the cheapest in any major city) from one wonder to another.

But even an ex-governor and immoderate fan wouldn't really recommend Hong Kong for a family holiday, would he? Oh yes he would! And just to prove it, I took my whole clan — wife, three daughters and their husbands and eight grandchildren under the age of six — for a holiday in my coequal favourite city (loyally with London). We had a stunning time, rediscovering some favourite Hong Kong haunts and finding how little in its fundamentals the city has changed. There are some new towering skyscrapers and the harbour is a little smaller as land reclamation reaches its limits. But overall, it's much the same Hong Kong — free, bustling and comfortable with its own identity.

During our visit, there were of course some special children's outings. I missed out myself on the trip to Disneyland — I've paid my dues to Mr Disney before. In Hong Kong, the 
park is easy to reach via public transport out on Lantau 
Island, to which the new airport, built on reclaimed 
land, is joined. By all accounts, the day was a hit, 
especially the parade of familiar characters.

I did join the family expedition to Ocean Park on the south side of Victoria Island. It is one of the greatest theme parks in the world, transformed in the last few years under the chairmanship of the visionary entrepreneur, Allan Zeman, who also began the redevelopment of the Central's bar and restaurant neighbourhood Lan Kwai Fong.

Ocean Park brings together a great aquarium, animals (including four pandas), dodgems and other fairground treats, a cable car, adventure rides to take your breath — and lunch — away, and a great show starring two happy-clappy sea lions and several smart 
dolphins. They are so clever — why don't they rule the world?

It is a brilliantly balanced 
day out for all the family, but 
try to get there at opening time. By mid-afternoon, it's hopping with large crowds of 
mainlanders, who didn't seem to notice that the 
Internationale was the musical accompaniment of the water display: an example, presumably, of Hong Kong's sense of humour.

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Posted by Chris Patten

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