Grass, flowers and trees sprout on a pleasant flower box hong kong park in Kowloon City in the heart of Hong Kong. A place for strollers, gossipers and practitioners of tai-chi (shadow boxing).
Hard to believe that not so long ago the site of these gardens was one of the most notorious corners of the Orient, an astonishing anomaly and a source of friction between China and Britain.
Here stood Kowloon Walled City, also known as Hak Nam, City of Darkness. More than 30,000 people lived in squalid tenements squeezed into an area 200 metres by 100 metres.
You may have glimpsed the Walled City in such films as Blood Sport (starring Jean Claude Van Damme) or Crime Story (with Jackie Chan).
Not only was it difficult to locate anybody in the warren of narrow streets but the inhabitants were ready to do battle with any outsiders who sought to establish their jurisdiction within these fetid acres.
Crime flourished and the Triads made the place their stronghold, operating brothels, opium divans and gambling dens.
A man could be murdered here without the British colonial authorities ever hearing about it. Sending the police in force was enough to provoke a riot and more than once the British had to back down when faced with the anger of the Walled City inhabitants.
They were backed by the Beijing government. For China claimed that the territory was historically part of the Middle Kingdom and no gwei-loh (foreign devil) legal arguments could change that.
The Walled City with its massive ramparts was a Chinese garrison city when in 1898 China leased the surrounding area, the New Territories, to British colonisers for 99 years.
China insisted that, under the treaty, it still exercised jurisdiction over the Walled City and whenever the British tried to impose their will residents threatened to turn the attempt into a diplomatic incident.
During the Japanese occupation of 1941-45 the enclave’s walls were torn down and the stone used to extend the nearby Kai Tak airfield. After the war thousands of desperate refugees surged in, building scores of illegal tenements. Anarchy ruled and the police had to adopt hands-off tactics because of the imprecise political situation.
Visiting this bizarre enclave was not advisable unless you were in the company of a local. I went there a couple of times, an eerie experience as I stumbled along dark alleyways. Overhead, balconies nearly touched, effectively blotting out any view of the sky.
Unregistered workshops and tiny shops flourished in this labyrinth. Dentists and doctors offered their services, without any recognised qualifications.
Only in the 1970s did a series of big police raids bring some sort of law to this urban jungle.
Finally, when Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, Beijing allowed the clearing of the site and the buildings were demolished in 1993. In its place traditional Chinese gardens were created at a cost of nearly US$10 million.
Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, formally opened the 31,000-square-metre (6.5-acre) Walled City Park in 1995.
Today, where the sun never reached, Triad gangs ruled and desperate families struggled to survive, you find a tranquil oasis, of pavilions and terraces, the Chess Garden and the Eight Floral Walks.
Although long haul airfares are higher than they used to be, a trip to Asia remains great value. Top luxury hotels in Asia are generally much cheaper than in London or New York, and the service is always quite superb. Cheap dining and bargain shopping for everything from designer clothing to electronics can make a trip to the Far East not only pleasurable but it also makes good financial sense.
Here are just three cities to whet your appetite for foreign travel, and three luxury hotels in Asia you will be talking about for years to come!
Dubai is all about sun, sand and shopping. It has excellent luxury hotels and resorts right on the beach with world-class amenities, and guaranteed sunshine all year round. Take a 4WD wadi trip to see the “real” Dubai or visit some of the cultural attractions in the city. The vast Dubai Mall, the largest shopping and entertainment centre in the world, is a great place to cool off in the air-conditioned stores.
Luxury Hotels in Dubai
For those who enjoy the world’s best, a stay at one of the world’s tallest hotels should not be missed. The iconic Burj al Arab is now the third tallest hotel building in the world. This superb structure, designed in the shape of a huge sail, is consistently placed on the Condé Nast Gold List and although pricey, a chance to stay at this top luxury hotel in Dubai is one of life’s great moments.
Hong Kong is one of the most popular destinations for travellers and mixes a taste of China with a strong British influence. Cross the harbour on the Star Ferry and ride the funicular railway to the Victoria Peak for great views of Kowloon. Browse the night markets which spring up along the streets with great designer knock-offs, take a harbour cruise or go to the races while you are here.
Luxury Hotels in Hong Kong
Enjoying superb waterfront views from its location on Kowloon waterfront, the Intercontinental is one of the best located luxury hotels in Hong Kong. It is a short stroll from the Star Ferry terminal, amidst high class shops. It features the latest technology and is way ahead of most European hotels with its Insider Concierge and Global Connector services.
This compact city-state is like nowhere else in the world. It offers visitors a host of waterfront activities as well as great shopping on Orchard Road and in colourful Chinatown. A trip to the Night Safari Zoo is highly recommended to see the nocturnal animals feeding after dark. Climb the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve for great views and visit one of the beautiful orchid gardens to pick up a box of freshly cut flowers as a great souvenir.
Luxury Hotels in Singapore
In Singapore, the historic Raffles Hotel lives up to its reputation as one of the great luxury hotels of the world. Even if you do not stay here, take afternoon tea, but gentlemen will need to wear a jacket and tie. The opulent lobby, courtyard gardens and beautifully restored suites will make a lasting impression.
Alex Brey co-founded Luxique, and has had a passion for travel for more than 20 years. So much so, he convinced others to join him in his pursuit to create a travel documentary highlighting some of the globe’s finest destinations. During an almost three year process, he got to stay in some outstanding luxury hotels, soak up some vibrant cultures and enjoy some of the world’s finest cuisines. He realized that the decision-making process for planning the perfect trip – from choosing the destination to getting the right hotel room – was something that could be improved. And so came the birth of Luxique, the website that caters for the discerning traveler.