Hong Kong is famous for its shopping, dining and hustling pace, but many visitors don't know that this East-meets-West metropolis has a quiet side that you can explore on foot at your own pace.
Although it has 7 million residents and packs in 15,000 people per square mile -- said to be the densest concentration of people on earth -- 40% of the Hong Kong special administration region is parkland. These green spaces encompass rich wetlands, lush tropical gardens and scenic nature trails.
Even in the heart of town, venerable temples, vest-pocket parks and quiet walkways provide places to chill out when you want a break from the intensity of the city.
The most unspoiled place in Hong Kong may be the Mai Po Nature Preserve. It is a short drive from the mainland Chinese border city of Shenzhen on the northern edge of Hong Kong's New Territories, and you have to book a visit in advance, but it's worth it. Going by taxi is best.At Mai Po, I alighted in bird-watching hole No. 7, a small wood and corrugated metal structure with a softly sliding door. As I peered out, I saw a lanky egret wading through shallow, briny water.
For a moment, all was silent.
Then, suddenly, a disturbance caused the egret to look up, unfold its wings and fly away into a landscape of mountains and clouds turned orange by the sunset.
Hong Kong sits on a prime flyway for migrating birds, some from as far away as Siberia and Australia. During peak spring and fall migrations, tens of thousands of shorebirds flock there. In the Mai Po marshes, they feast on shrimp and small fish for their journey up and down the east coast of Asia. At such times, the trees are black with roosting birds, and wading avians like egrets and kingfishers make their way through brackish waters, eyes downcast in search of salty morsels.