It would seem that one necessary evil when traveling is the inevitable encounter with a Traveler. A Traveler has a world-weary “seen there, done that” air about them and is constantly engaging in games of “one-upsmanship” (anything you’ve seen or done, they’ve seen or done something better or cooler). A Traveler is someone who goes to great pains and lengths to enumerate the many differences between being a Traveler and a mere tourist (and of course, how they are the former, not the latter), and quite frankly in their books, if you’re going to be a tourist, you might as well just stay home. Constantly chasing “authentic” travel experiences, a Traveler will condemn an activity as anathema to them with the damning label of being “too touristy/touristic”.
Simply put, when in Hong Kong, Travelers likely wouldn’t be caught dead on a night cruise of Victoria Harbour, an activity that routinely tops lists compiling the best things you can do when visiting the city. Thankfully, Tony & I don’t give two figs about whether something is overly touristy or not, and just go ahead and do the things we want to do, regardless of whether a popular travel guide endorses them or not. Sometimes these things are duds, but then again, sometimes these attractions are rightly famous… there’s only one way to find out. To that end, if admitting that while in Hong Kong we not only took a night cruise of Victoria Harbour but did so specifically during the time when we could witness the much touted “Symphony of Lights” gets us kicked out of the cool kids travel club, so be it. I freely admit we did both of those things and had a wonderful time of it!
Wandering around Hong Kong during the day, you are really only able to appreciate a scant fraction of the city and its towering buildings that stretch impossibly high, piercing the sky. Like a pointilist painting, if you really want to appreciate the majesty of the Hong Kong sky line, you need to take a step back and head out into the harbour. Tours run throughout the day, but the city really bursts to life once the sun goes down and the buildings begin to illuminate, so we knew that would be when we took our cruise. There are many operators offering cruises of the bay, but I believe that only one of them is registered with the Hong Kong Tourist Board, and this is the one we opted to take. For $120HKD (~$15USD) per person, we got an hour-long loop tour of the bay originating on the Kowloon side of the action, and got a snack and a drink while onboard the huge vessel (our boat could easily have held 150+ people); because we sailed during the Symphony of Lights, our tour cost slightly more than it would have at other times of day, but we figured if we were going to do this thing, we were going to do it right.
I know I’m tossing around the phrase “Symphony of Lights” like this is a well-known attraction. In essence, this fancily named phenomenon is nothing but a light show that several of the buildings surrounding the harbour participate in. The symphony aspect refers to the fact that the light show is marginally synchronized to go along with a 20-minute musical program that you can listen to on the radio…
The whole thing is precisely as dorky as it sounds (maybe more so…), but it was also really fun! Our boat broadcast the radio program onboard as we puttered about the harbour, and we marveled at how ostentatious and over-the-top some of the lighting rigs on several of the buildings were. Even with manically flashing neon lights, the skyline was really quite breathtaking, though I fully admit that prior to standing there and seeing it with my own eyes, I just couldn’t see how it could be something worth seeing. In truth, the Hong Kong skyline is iconic for a reason: it is seriously impressive! And while the Symphony of Lights was certainly silly, it somehow never felt gaudy or tacky, but was instead oddly mesmerizing. Standing in the middle of the bay, surrouded by coal-black water that the reflections of the lights danced across, the city seemed so large and alien, while I felt so very small. Everywhere you turn in Hong Kong, there is palpable energy that is undeniable and just a little bit unruly; witnessing the Symphony of Lights, you feel like just maybe it’s possible to harness it. The end result is a pretty spectacular feast for the senses, one that I gobbled up with gusto!
To fully appreciate our dynamic tour of Victoria Harbour, check out the video Tony has created highlighting our time on the boat.