Hong Kong

Fresh from losing his savings at the poker table, Daryl Bolger introduces us to the allure of Hong Kong

As two politically independent countries jutting out from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and its neighbouring region Macau are tourists’ dreams, bustling with all the energy and excitement one would expect, but without the bureaucracy and censorship afforded to visitors across the border.

With stomachs grumbling after an arduous flight, most tourists will experience their first facet of local culture in the atmospheric restaurants of Hong Kong.  All manner of dumplings, buns and noodle soups will have any stomach screaming for more.  Jumbo, long a tourist favourite, is not to be missed. A four floor restaurant, it has served the best of local cuisine for generations. Every day people visit the restaurant by the boatload, an unorthodox method of travel but seeing as Jumbo is in the middle of a marina, a car might be found wanting on the journey across.

Once your stomach is full, it’s time to hop in a cab to what is possibly the world’s most idyllic tram journey; that which leaves you at the top of Hong Kong Island, known far and wide as ‘The Peak’. From here one can see first-hand why Hong Kong harbour is voted the world’s most beautiful skyline time and time again. The twilight period, as light turns to dark, is the opportune time to visit; the city seems to glow momentarily and a vast array of skyscrapers will suddenly announce themselves before your eyes in glorious artificial light.

The locals love to gamble and there’s no better to place join them than the Happy Valley Racecourse. Entry is the equivalent of just one euro, so it won’t leave a dent in your wallet. Surrounded by skyscrapers on one side and with the clubhouse standing at some thirteen stories on the other, it’s a site that needs to be seen to be believed. The experience is completely different to what one would find in Ireland, and not just because of the flat racecourse. The bookies are all state-owned and the form book is a few sheets of papers stapled together, with horses rated on a scale ranging from one thumbs up to three thumbs up – not too useful for picking a winner. It is mainly a social occasion; beer is served cold and cheap by the pitcher, McDonalds supply the food and the huge mix of locals and ex-pats are good for a chat. Otwo visited on the day of the ‘Ireland Cup’ which was especially enjoyable; Cork and Kerry accents mingled with thick Cantonese is an aural sensation which should be heard more often.

Across the road from the racecourse lie three fascinating graveyards: one Islamic, one Protestant and one Catholic. The majority of graves contained therein are close to a century old and the great number of Irish deceased is quite incredible; it is hard to walk more than twenty feet without encountering the epitaph of a Murphy from Dingle or an O’Brien from Dun Laoghaire, police officers or craftsmen from a bygone era. Despite this writer having many of his own relatives buried there, it is not something one expects to find when so far away from home, and it is an almost uplifting discovery, knowing that our nation contributed in a major way to the building of this one.

An hour-long boat journey away from Hong Kong lies Macau. Nicknamed by many as the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’, it is in fact much larger than its American cousin and is home to the world’s largest casino, the Venetian Macau. Chinese millionaires come here by the boatload to spend their thousands. Private high-stake rooms are often standing room only and the ultra-luxury brands operate a strict queuing system, with bouncers to maintain order. Low stakes risk-takers are accommodated too, nonetheless with free drink thick and plentiful even the most prudent guest will soon have their budget in the hands of the casino; just make sure you have HK$168 left for the boat home.