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Hong Kong is busy, and business is why. It's the world's busiest deepwater port, and though recently challenged by Shanghai and Singapore, Hong Kong is still the main financial interface with business in Asia and one of the leading shopping venues in the world.

Though it's been a Special Administrative Region of China since 1997, Hong Kong has kept a mixture of things eastern and things western that has made it one of the world's great cities. Start with a visit to Victoria Peak where you can see it all at once - the business district's high rise office and apartment buildings, Victoria Harbour, and the shopping areas of Kowloon. In the distance, you can see some of the 234 outlying islands, whose many villages, coves, and beaches provide marvelous getaways for quite and relaxation.

Hiking is a significant pastime, and trails in county parks, on Lantau Island, and in the New Territories mix coastal vistas with jungle paths. The junks that ply the harbor, the rapid ferries that connect islands and peninsulas, and the houseboats that gather on the shores are regular grist for visitor cameras.

Excellent beaches are scattered among the coves, inlets, and islands, and a complete if complicated public transportation system will take you anywhere. The list of water activities includes fishing, sailing, motorboating, and windsurfing. Golf has become popular, but green fees are beyond belief.

The fireworks over the harbor that usually accompany Hong Kong's festivals are works of art and prompt lots of excitement. Chinese New Year, the Taoist Tin Hau Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Lantern Festival are major events. They're calculated by the lunar calendar, so check ahead for each year's dates.

The Museum of History in Kowloon will help you follow the interesting story of the development of Hong Kong. In 1841, a British naval captain, during the first of two ignominious Opium Wars, took over a scraggly, rocky island near the entrance to

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the Pearl River estuary in southern China as a military post. The apparent uselessness of the “barren island with hardly a house on it” angered the British foreign secretary, but they were stuck with the place. They could never have imagined that this would become some of the most expensive land on earth.

In 1898, more than 30 years after the second Opium War, the British increased the land area of the growing colony ten fold by leasing the “New Territories,” the mainland part on the north side of Hong Kong, from the Fading Chinese empire. The lease was for 99 years, a fact often ignored in the booming years that followed.

The first half of the 20th century was turbulent for mainland China and many people and assets moved to the relative safety of Hong Kong. When Mao Zedong's Communist armies defeated the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek, another flood of expatriates sought physical and financial refuge in the British colony.

Hong Kong has shifted its economic focus as needed. From trade to light manufacturing, and then to finance and tourism, Hong Kong has kept its economy churning. The reversion of Hong Kong to China in 1997 at the end of the New Territories lease worried many people, but cautious play on both sides has allowed the region's unique success to continue.

Recent capital and commercial developments indicate that a new cooperatism is in place. In 1998 airplanes began landing at Chek Lap Kok, the new international airport, and Hong Kong Disneyland is scheduled to open in 2005.

For detailed highlights of Hong Kong, see our Featured Destination Guides.

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