Looking out of the plane’s window, I could see Hong Kong’s islands — from the biggest, Lantau island home to the Big Buddha, to the smaller ones like Peng Chau or Lamma. And all of them glowed like emeralds on top of the sapphire waters of the Pearl River, under the afternoon sun.
As the fourth most densely populated region in the world, it would be expected that soaring skyscrapers or high rises would take every square inch of Hong Kong. Yet, dramatic jungle hills and picturesque bays serve, more often than not, as a backdrop to human-made creations. And seen from above, the city resembles a painter’s palette dominated by several shades of greens and blues.
The Bold Central Neighbourhood
I only needed a few hours trodding the streets and alleys of Central, in Hong Kong Island, to start discovering more hues. Greys from the concrete sidewalks, the broad highways and the cables that line the avenues where the famous ding ding — a centenary tram — runs through.
The Chinese red and hints of gold came from shrines tucked away in back alleys or larger temples like Man Mo on Hollywood Road. Incense coils, papers lanterns, and temple walls use this auspicious colour to invite fortune and ward off evil spirits.
Pastel Paradise of the Kowloon Peninsula
Across Victoria Harbour, the Kowloon Peninsula adds even more colour to the city’s palette – spattered with baby blue, mint-green and even lilac. These shades come from the public estates, the residence complexes that are the backbone of Hong Kong’s society. And while each estate has its own colour scheme, none is as impressive as the aptly named Choi Hung — rainbow in Cantonese — in the leafy suburb of Wong Tai Sin.
Quarry Bay, the home of pink
Sitting under Mount Parker, east of Central on the MRT Island line, Quarry Bay is a quiet and traditional neighbourhood which many would say is not scenic enough to visit. But, a trip there proved otherwise; local markets take place under the imposing pink coloured estates, kids run around in their school uniforms and foreigners are looked upon with curiosity.
Under a golden and gentle light of dusk, I'm told the reason behind the distinct colour choice for the housing buildings in the city is based on budget — red is the cheapest pigment to add to white paint.
The charming Tai-O
The small blue and yellow fishing boats bobbing along the calm waters of Tai O village are enough to soothe anyone that can spare a moment contemplating them. Far from the bold colours of its heyday, there is still charm in Tai O.
Traditional blue and green post boxes, fading red lanterns hanging from Kwan Tai Temple's tiled roof, and the silvery corrugated iron rooftops from the old-style stilt houses are enough to take any visitor to another time. There is no rush, no chaotic vibes, and barely any phone signal. It’s the place where you would want to go to escape the concrete jungle.
Like any major city, Hong Kong is a treasure trove waiting to be explored, but I prefer to think of it more as an artist’s paint box. When you first open it, you can only notice the bright and deep colours. But as you rummage through, sorting out the little tubes of pigment, softer tones emerge.
So if you find yourself in the city, make sure you explore every inch of this artist’s box and fully appreciate all the colours it has to offer.
This article was originally published in Modern Getaways Magazine on February 22, 2018.