BEIJING, June 7 -- On a weekend getaway to the island, Margaret McKenzie enjoys great food, Disney magic and her own Bond Girl moment.
Whether it's a long layover between flights or a two-day respite from day-to-day life, 48 hours in Hong Kong can put a spring back in one's step - even if you're stepping up one of the city's notoriously steep inclines.
If the weather gods are smiling, you'll be able to scale mountains, enjoy a dip in the ocean, ride a wild roller-coaster and dine al fresco under the stars, all in the space of one short weekend.
As a US expat who has spent most of my life on one coast or another, I was experiencing serious sea-breeze withdrawal after six months in Beijing.
Thus, stepping out of Hong Kong's airport heading to the Le Meridien Cyberport Hotel on the island, I am instantly back in my happy place, as the verdant hills, flower-bedecked trees and moisture-laden air greet me warmly.
I'd been advised to opt for the bus as opposed to the airport express train on this, my first visit to the city: The A-10 offered tiers of seating and breathtaking views of the harbors, islands and peaks that make Hong Kong so beautiful. Not only that, but at HK$42 ($5.42), the fare is less than half that of the train, though the bus takes a little longer.
I come armed with a wish list for the weekend, starting with dipping my toes in the waters of Repulse Bay or Stanley Beach. So after check-in I take another bus to Repulse Bay.
Though the lifeguard stations are reassuringly stationed every 10 meters or so, the only one wading in the bracingly cold water is me. Everywhere I look is a postcard-worthy vista, and the strand is dotted with sightseers in street clothes capturing the awe-inspiring beauty with their cameras. Just south of the luxury high-rises encircling the bay are the red-and-yellow pagodas and bridges of Tin Hau Temple, whose statues are dedicated to protecting the local fishing fleet.
Next I take the tram to Victoria Peak, which affords a panoramic though occasionally hazy view of the downtown. A quick cab ride later, I land in Central, where I drop coins in a token machine and soon climb aboard the famous green-and-white Star Ferry, which in a mere 10 minutes deposits me at upscale Kowloon and its glitzy malls.
After a stroll, I opt to dine at the Greyhound Cafe near the harbor, a trendy Thai chain with branches in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Its tasty Waterfall Grilled Lamb, served on skewers and washed down with an ice-cold Singha beer, hits the spot and gives me the energy to find my way back to the hotel.
The next day dawns hot and clear.
Although the little kid in me is lobbying for an immediate departure to Lantau Island (and Disneyland), my grown-up self needs caffeine. I ride up one of the mid-level escalators from Hong Kong's Central district, where I find not only a picturesque cafe but also a street dedicated to fresh produce of all kinds. The fresh, crunchy apple I purchase proves the perfect finish to my croissant-and-coffee breakfast, and the bustling, twisty streets are exactly as I have pictured exotic Hong Kong to be.
The ride to Lantau is fast and efficient, and the Disney train is a happy place indeed: brimming with children of all ages and decorated with mouse-ear shaped windows and hand-holds. Although compact, HK Disney offers bang for the buck in several ways: Its celebrated fireworks go off nightly behind Cinderella's Castle, and at $58, the tariff at the gate is about 40 percent cheaper than ticket prices in the US.
Despite its smaller size, I find all of my old favorites - Space Mountain, It's a Small World, Dumbo the Flying Elephant - along with a new one: Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, an exciting coaster that speeds forwards and backwards around "sandstone" cliffs.
Another popular attraction on Lantau is the Tian Tan Buddha. At 250 tons and 34 meters high, it's the world's largest Buddha statue and reachable on the same Tung Chung express train that goes to Disney.
By late afternoon, I am back in Central district in pursuit of a cooling beverage at the iconic Mandarin Oriental hotel. Using the futuristic, enclosed walkways Hong Kong is famous for, I head straight through the lobby to the elegant bar, where - feeling like a Bond Girl in the swanky surroundings - I am soon served a somewhat pricey but very delicious whiskey sour.
To make my final night in Hong Kong special, I snag a reservation at Quemo, a happening Spanish tapas restaurant I've read about online. As advertised, the food is incredible and the small penthouse space is buzzing with conversation as bottles of wine and sizzling pans of paella whisk past. The staff is attentive and friendly. After dinner, I enjoy a chat with blue-eyed Catalonian head chef Angel Pascual, who shows me around the restaurant, including a charming rooftop drinks terrace.
On the relaxing cab ride back to the hotel, stirred by the floral scents and happy chatter that surround me in Hong Kong, I am busy planning my return to Xiang Gang - China's Fragrant Harbor.