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Hong Kong

Hong Kong Skyline (Courtesy of P Sarajoti/Shutterstock.com)

There's one constant in Hong Kong -- change! If you visited a few years back, you may not recognize the place. So how did Hong Kong get to where it is today? There are nearly 5,000 years of Chinese history and traditions there, overlaid with 150 years of British colonial influence. Ceded back to China by the British in 1997, the city remains a "free-market zone" within the communist Chinese system. Locals still refer to the "border" of mainland China, and visitors from the West must acquire tourist visas in order to cross -- although visa regulations seem to be in constant flux, so be sure to confirm the current situation.

In terms of cultural diversity, architectural innovation, infrastructure and cosmopolitan edginess, it's hard to beat Hong Kong. The city is also one of the most vibrant commercial centers in the world. Hong Kong is the foremost deep-water harbor in Asia, a fact evidenced by the scores of cargo vessels carrying manufactured goods to the rest of the world.

Hong Kong is composed of three main districts. The Kowloon Peninsula houses the famed Ladies' Market and Temple Street Night Market, the upscale shops on Nathan Road's "Golden Mile," several museums and the busy, tourist-friendly Tsim Sha Tsui area. Connecting Kowloon to mainland China are the scenic New Territories, where you'll find elaborate temples and woodlands. Hong Kong Island, across Victoria Harbour, contains the city's financial district. Dubbed the "concrete forest," Hong Kong Island offers a stunning juxtaposition of imposing skyscrapers set against the towering slopes of Victoria Peak. But travel to the other side of the Peak, and you'll find beaches, islands, an amusement park and Stanley Harbor -- with yet another renowned market.

Photos: 12 Best China Experiences

--written by Gayle Keck

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