Despite being thrown back into the arms of China, Hong Kong post-1997 is still that unique meeting place of east and west, of magic, charm and chatter that has fired the imaginations of travellers, traders, fortune-seekers, refugees and sailors for 150 years. The final lowering of the Union Jack over Hong Kong was a moment the world had awaited with apprehension. The saga had reached a watershed of sorts; Hong Kong or 'Heung Gong' (literally 'Fragrant Harbour') had become the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Hong Kong SAR).
What has changed? Not the dynamism of this harbour city; Hong Kong is still aglow with vibrant self-appreciation. The financial heartland of Central on Hong Kong Island still glitters. The boundless energy of the Hong Kong people remains unsapped as they take the future in their stride. This energy translates into a barrage of sights, sounds and smells. The city streets surge with activity, crowds squeeze aboard trams that ferry them home while packed boats bounce over the waters of Victoria Harbour, leaving behind a backdrop of dazzling neon and intoxicating colour. The constant clatter of commerce hardly pauses, and all around can be heard the most garrulous tongue on earth: Cantonese. Those people on business come and go, occasionally sidling into wayside temples to cast prayers at the feet of the gods and divine the future.
Churches, temples and colonial buildings lie in the shadow of neighbouring skyscrapers. Busy thoroughfares yield to small alleys that lead to flourishing street markets. The early morning hours see the parks alive with the timeless and measured movements of taijiquan (tai chi) practitioners. And permeating all this hustle and bustle linger the fragrances of the city. The aromas of Cantonese cooking from countless kitchens hang over the streets, mixing with the scent of dried fish and herbs while the perfumed smoke of incense beckons you into the hidden portal of a roadside shrine.
Hong Kong at night offers yet more. Lovers of good food will be spoilt for choice in the city's eclectic eateries. Hong Kong's bars offer everything from alternative to chic to the refined. And to see the early hours in, Hong Kong's nightclubs offer an energetic fusion of rhythms and moods.
If you want to escape the city, the Peak offers mist-wreathed walks along nature trails. And if you really want to visit an almost unspoiled Eden of lush green fields and banana trees, visit Lamma Island for an unexpected side to Hong Kong. The New Territories and other outlying islands also offer bracing walks among dramatic and spectacular countryside.
Now is the time to visit Hong Kong. Hotel prices and airfares have fallen considerably and there are some excellent deals out there. Good news for all of you who couldn't make it on the night of 30 June 1997.