Archive for the ‘Hong Kong China Travel’ Category
With its beautiful skyline and beautiful harbor views, Hong Kong is a favorite destination for many tourists traveling to China. Victoria Peak, which rests high above Hong Kong, is the city’s highest peak and offers stunning views of a city known for demonstrating where East meets West.
While Hong Kong may not provide a high end Tennis Academy Florida residents are seeking, the city has a wide variety of excellent hotels featuring luxurious accommodations, fine dining, and activities suited to any taste. However, in Hong Kong, you will hardly wish to stay in your hotel as there are simply too many diverse things to do around the city. Whether you want to stroll the financial district of Hong Kong staring up at the modern architecture of skyscrapers or stroll through nature at Victoria’s peak, the city literally offers something for everyone. But if there is anything that travelers should indulge while in Hong Kong, it is the food.
Hong Kong has some of the best food in all of China and whether you choose to sit down for a nice meal or grab a bite off the streets or ferries, you are sure to find a savory dish. Regardless of where you choose to dine, travelers should make sure to stop in a traditional Cantonese restaurant for dim sum. The food will be excellent and it will be a dining experience like no other full of laughing faces, quick movements, and a large amount of food.
The city is also somewhat of a cultural epicenter for China, and has a deep history in film. While visiting, travelers can visit the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, or the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. However, visitors don’t need to pay admissions fees to see the pride the city takes in its culture. The influences of Feng Shui can be seen in many buildings, as well as Ba gua mirrors.
Hong Kong is also relatively easy for English-speaking travelers to get around as the city’s previous British rule has influenced many residents to speak both Cantonese and English. The city also features one of the best public transport systems with a rating exceeding 90 percent making it incredibly easy to get to any area of the city in a matter of minutes.
This modern, if not seemingly futuristic city, with its forward thinking regarding green movements and a heightened quality of life will be sure to intrigue and inspire any traveler. However, travelers should watch the time in which they choose to visit Hong Kong. Because the city lies on the Tropic of Cancer it has a humid subtropical climate which results in hot and humid summers and fairly warm winters. April, May, October, and November are generally the best months to visit as they have more mild temperatures, sunny days, and low rain fall.
Hong Kong is surrounded by some 260 outlying islands, most of them barren and uninhabited. Because construction in the New Territories is booming and transportation to underpopulated areas there can be slow, the islands offer the easiest opportunity to see something of rural Chinese life—just hop on a ferry in Central and then sit back and enjoy the view. In fact, taking a ferry to an outlying island is the cheapest harbor cruise there is, making getting there part of the fun.
Three of the most accessible and popular islands are Lantau, Cheung Chau, and Lamma. Each offers something different: Lantau, which can also be reached by MTR and then cable car, is famous for its giant outdoor Buddha—one of Hong Kong’s major attractions—and Po Lin Monastery with its vegetarian meals; Cheung Chau, with its beach, boat population, and thriving fishing community, is a popular destination for families and is the best choice for immersion into village life; and Lamma, known for its open-air seafood restaurants, hiking trail, and beaches, is best for getting away from it all.
Ferries to all three islands depart approximately every hour or two from Hong Kong Island’s Central Ferry Piers, also home of the Star Ferry. You can purchase your ticket at the piers just prior to departure or use the magnetic Octopus transportation card, but avoid going on Sunday or holidays when the ferries are packed with city folks on family outings. There are two kinds of ferries: ordinary ferries and quicker hover-ferry service (called “Fast Ferries”). The Fast Ferries to Lantau, Cheung Chau, and Lamma are used mostly by commuters. I personally prefer the slower, ordinary ferries because the view is better, especially if you’re headed for Lantau or Cheung Chau: These have the bonus of deluxe class, which is on the upper deck and has an open deck out back—a great place to watch the harbor float past when the weather is nice. In addition, deluxe cabins are the only ones that are air conditioned, a plus when humidity is at its peak. Note, however, that ferries to Lamma have no deluxe class or outside deck. In any case, you might wish to head out to an island via regular ferry and then return via Fast Ferry. An additional infrequent ferry service from Tsim Sha Tsui’s Star Ferry concourse to Lantau and Cheung Chau runs on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, but it may not offer deluxe class.
Inhabited since Neolithic times and twice the size of Hong Kong Island, Lantau is Hong Kong’s largest island. But while Hong Kong Island has a population of 1.4 million, Lantau has only about 88,000. Much of its population growth has occurred only recently, first with the founding of Discovery Bay, a large, modern, and expensive settlement of condominiums popular with expats and chuppies, then with Hong Kong’s new airport, and finally with the 2006 opening of Hong Kong Disneyland. But one of its biggest draws is the Giant Tian Tan Buddha, the largest seated outdoor Buddha in the world. Accessible by ferry or via MTR and then cable car, Lantau is by far the most popular of Hong Kong’s outlying islands.
Yet much of Lantau remains mountainous and lush. Country parks make up more than half of the island, with 69km (43 miles) of marked hiking trails. Lantau is an island of high peaks, remote and isolated beaches, small villages, temples, and monasteries. To do the island justice, I suggest arriving the old-fashioned way, by ordinary ferry, followed by a bus to the Giant Buddha and then returning to the city by cable car and subway. You should allow at least 5 hours for the entire trip.
If you have only 3 or 4 hours to spare and don’t want to worry about catching buses and finding your way around, Cheung Chau is your best bet. In fact, if I were forced to select only one island to show visiting friends on a limited time schedule, Cheung Chau would be it. Only 12km (71/2 miles) from Hong Kong Island, it’s a 55-minute ride by ordinary ferry from outlying-ferry pier no. 5 in Central, with ferries leaving approximately every hour and offering scenic harbor views from the outdoor deluxe-class deck. Even quicker are the Fast Ferries, also departing every hour and making the trip in 30 minutes (but these don’t have outdoor decks). Despite its name (Cheung Chau means “Long Island”), Cheung Chau is a tiny, dumbbell-shaped island, with more than 25,000 residents concentrated in a thriving fishing village. There are no cars on the island, making it a delightful place for walking around and exploring rural village life. The island is especially popular with Chinese families for its rental bicycles and beach (you might want to bring your bathing suit), but my favorite thing to do here is to walk the tiny, narrow lanes of Cheung Chau village.
Lamma is the island to visit if you want to escape city life, do some pleasant hiking, swim, or dine alfresco on fresh seafood with views of a peaceful waterfront. The closest of the outlying islands, only 35 minutes by ordinary ferry and 20 minutes by Fast Ferry from Central Ferry Piers no. 4 in Central, Lamma is Hong Kong’s third-largest island, has a population of about 12,000, and is still largely undeveloped. The island has no cars, and a 11/2-hour hiking trail connects Lamma’s two main villages—Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan—both served by ferries from Hong Kong Island. Yung Shue Wan, with a large and youthful foreign population, has a decidedly bohemian laid-back atmosphere, while much smaller Sok Kwu Wan is popular for its open-air seafood restaurants. If it’s summer, don’t forget to bring your bathing suit, since there are several beaches along the trails. You’d be smart, too, to buy bottled water from one of the many stores in either Sok Kwu Wan or Yung Shue Wan before setting out on the trail. In addition, try to avoid Sundays, when the trail is crowded with families, seniors walking dogs, and even mountain bikers.
Mention Hong Kong and most people think of Hong Kong Island’s Central District, Victoria Peak, the shops and neon of Tsim Sha Tsui, and the Star Ferry crossing Victoria Harbour. What they don’t realize is that Hong Kong Island and Kowloon comprise only 10% of the entire territory— the New Territories and the outlying islands make up the other whopping 90%.
If you have a day or two to spare, or even just an afternoon, I suggest you spend it on a trip outside the city in one of the SAR’s rural areas. Escape the bustle and chaos of the city in one of the region’s small villages in the countryside, or on the islands, and you’ll have the chance to glimpse an older and slower way of life, where traditions still reign supreme and where life follows a rhythm all its own.
Before the 1980s, the New Territories were made up of peaceful countryside, with duck farms, fields, and old villages. No more. A vast 1,008-sq.-km (389-sq.-mile) region that stretches from Kowloon to the border of mainland China, the New Territories have long been Hong Kong’s answer to its growing population. Huge government housing projects mushroomed throughout the New Territories, especially in towns along the railway and subway lines. Once-sleepy villages became concrete jungles virtually overnight.
Close to one-half of Hong Kong’s population — about 3.3 million people — lives in the New Territories, many in subsidized housing. The New Territories, therefore, are vitally important to the SAR’s well-being and its future. For visitors to ignore the area completely would be shortsighted; many find the housing projects, in some suburbs stretching as far as the eye can see, nothing short of astounding. If, on the other hand, it’s peace and quiet you’re searching for. The New Territories are so large and so mountainous that not all the land has been turned into housing, and the area still makes an interesting side travel; it’s so different from the city itself that it’s almost like visiting an entirely different country.
Traveling in the New Territories, you may notice women wearing wide-brimmed hats with a black fringe and pajama-like clothing. These women are Hakka, as are most of the farmers of the New Territories. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), some of the Hakka clans in the area built walls around their homes to protect themselves. A handful of these walled villages still exist today, along with ancestral halls and other ancient, traditional buildings. One of my favorite things to do in the New Territories is to walk one of two Heritage Trails, both of which highlight village life in the New Territories and take you past significant historic buildings and walled villages. I also suggest that before visiting any walled village, try to see the Sam Tung Uk Museum in Tsuen Wan, since it will greatly enrich your visit to a lived-in walled village.
If you have only 1 or 2 nights in Hong Kong and you’re uncomfortable roaming around on your own, I recommend an organized night tour. Water tours, an old Hong Kong company that specializes in boat tours, offers several evening cruises, including tours that combine cruises with various land activities. The Aberdeen & Harbour Night Cruise, for example, includes a sunset cruise with unlimited drinks, dinner aboard the Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant in Aberdeen, and a stop at a scenic overlook midway up Victoria Peak.
One of the most beautiful and romantic sights in the world must be from Victoria Peak at night. The Peak Tram, which costs HK$33 round-trip and runs daily until midnight, deposits passengers at the Peak Tower terminal. From the terminal, turn right, and then turn right again onto a pedestrian footpath. This path, which follows Lugard and Harlech roads, circles the Peak, offering great views of glittering Hong Kong. Popular with both lovers and joggers, the path is lit at night and leads past expensive villas and primeval-looking jungles. This is definitely the best stroll in Hong Kong, and it only takes about an hour.
On the other side of the harbor, a promenade lines the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, popular among young Chinese couples. It stretches from the Star Ferry terminus all the way through Tsim Sha Tsui East, with romantic views of lit-up Hong Kong Island across the choppy waters. Best of all is the nightly Symphony of Lights from 8 to 8:18pm, when an impressive laser-and-light show is projected from more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbor. The Guinness World Records says this is the “World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show.”
If you’re looking for colorful atmosphere, head for the Temple Street Night Market, near the Jordan MTR station in Kowloon. Extending for several blocks, it has stalls where clothing, accessories, toys, pens, watches, sunglasses, cassettes, household items, and much more are sold. This is also a good place for an inexpensive meal at one of the dai pai dong (roadside food stalls), which specialize in seafood, including clams, shrimp, mussels, and crab.
But the most wonderful part of the market is its northern end, to the right, around the white parking area. Here, near the Tin Hau temple, you’ll find palm readers and fortune-tellers, some of whom speak English, as well as street musicians and singers. You’ll have to hunt for the tiny alleyway of musicians, where groups set up their own stages and are surrounded by an appreciative audience. Cantonese pop songs and operas are among the favorites, and when the musicians do an especially good job, they are rewarded with tips. Get there before 9pm to see the musicians. Otherwise, although some vendors set up shop as early as 4pm, the market is in full swing from about 7 to 10pm daily.
Farther north, near the Mong Kok MTR station, is the Ladies’ Market, which stretches along Tung Choi Street between Argyle and Dundas streets. It’s a great place to shop for inexpensive women’s, men’s, and children’s fashions and accessories, including watches, handbags, T-shirts, and other goods. It’s not quite as touristy as the Temple Street Night Market, and the atmosphere is fun and festive. It’s open daily from about 1 to 11pm.
Nightlife in Hong Kong seems pretty tame when compared to Tokyo or Bangkok. For the upper crust who live here, exclusive membership clubs are popular for socializing and entertaining guests, while the vast majority of Chinese are likely to spend their free evenings at one of those huge lively restaurants.
Yet it would be wrong to assume that the SAR has nothing to offer in the way of nightlife—it’s just that you probably won’t get into any trouble enjoying yourself. To liven things up, Hong Kong stages several annual events, including the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February/March, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March/April. Other cultural activities and entertainment are presented throughout the year, including theater productions, pop concerts, and Chinese opera and dance performances.
Most of Hong Kong’s bars and clubs are concentrated in a handful of nightlife districts. In the Central District, most popular is Lan Kwai Fong, in the vicinity of Lan Kwai Fong and D’Aguilar streets, where a multitude of bars and restaurants have long added a spark to Hong Kong’s financial district. Nearby, SoHo, along the Central–Mid-Levels Escalator south of Hollywood Road, boasts an ever-growing number of ethnic restaurants and bars. Business is so good, some predict a future merging of the two nightlife meccas as more and more establishments set up shop along connecting Wyndham and Hollywood roads. Wan Chai has also witnessed a revival with a spate of new bars, restaurants, and strip joints, while Knutsford Terrace, a small alley on the north end of Tsim Sha Tsui, is popular for its openfronted bars and restaurants. You can party until dawn; indeed, some bars and discos don’t take off until after midnight.
Remember that a 10% service charge will be added to your food/drinks bill. If you’re watching your Hong Kong dollars, take advantage of happy hour. Furthermore, many pubs, bars, and lounges offer live entertainment, from jazz to Filipino combos (musicians and singers together performing all kinds of music genres), which you can enjoy simply for the price of a beer. Plus, you can enjoy many of the city’s finest nighttime charms—strolling along the Tsim Sha Tsui harbor waterfront or around Victoria Peak, watching the nightly Symphony of Lights outdoor laser and light show, or browsing at the Temple Street Night Market—for free.
Hong Kong is a duty-free port, which means that imported goods are not taxed in the SAR with the exception of only a few luxury goods like tobacco and alcohol. What’s more, Hong Kong has no sales tax. Thus, you can buy some goods in the SAR at a cheaper price than in the country where they were made. It’s less expensive, for example, to buy Japanese products such as designer clothing, cameras, electronic goods, and pearls in Hong Kong than in Japan itself. In fact, all my friends who live in Japan try to visit the SAR at least once or twice a year to buy their business clothes, cosmetics, and other accessories.
Although not as cheap as it once was, clothing is probably one of the best buys in Hong Kong, simply because of the sheer quantity and variety. It should come as no surprise that when you look at the labels of clothes sold in your own local shops, many say made in Hong Kong or made in china. While international designer garments and custom-made clothing are comparable to what you’d pay in high-end shops around the world, cheaper options abound, including factory outlets, discount shops that sell season’s end merchandise, street markets, and small stores where you can pick up inexpensive fashions for a song. But even when you end up paying about as much for an outfit as you would back home, you know you’ve purchased unique clothing in Hong Kong that’s impossible to find in homogenized shopping malls.
Hong Kong is also a great place to shop for other Chinese products, including porcelain (from vases to darling tea cups with lids), tableware, jade, cloisonné, silk, handicrafts, embroidery, Chinese herbs, chopsticks, Chinese traditional dresses (the cheongsam) and jackets, exotic teas from China’s many provinces, snuff bottles, antiques, and artwork.
Other good buys include shoes, gold jewelry, pearls, opals, furniture, carpets, leather goods, luggage (you’ll probably need a new bag just to lug your purchases home), handbags, briefcases, cosmetics, and eyeglasses. Hong Kong is also one of the world’s largest exporters of watches and toys. As for electronic goods and cameras, they are not the bargains they once were. Make sure, therefore, to check prices on goods at home before you come to the SAR so that you can accurately assess a bargain. The best deals are on recently discontinued models.
Because shopping is such big business in Hong Kong, most stores are open 7 days a week, closing only for 2 or 3 days during the Chinese New Year. Most stores open at 10am and remain open until about 6:30 or 7:30pm in Central (some stores are closed on Sun; stores in malls stay open later), 9 or 10pm or even later in Tsim Sha Tsui and Yau Ma Tei, and 9:30pm in Causeway Bay. Street markets are open every day.
The biggest and best seasonal sale takes place around the Chinese New Year, generally in February. All the major department stores as well as shops in many of the huge shopping complexes hold sales at this time, with prices discounted about 40%. Look also for a summer sale, usually in June or July, as well as end-of-season sales in the early spring and early autumn.
Opened in 2005 on Lantau Island, just a 10-minute ride from the airport, this Disney venture was Asia’s second (the first was Tokyo Disneyland). Recreating many of the exact features of the original Disneyland in California but on a smaller scale, the 126-hectare (311-acre) theme park contains the usual four Disney themed lands—namely, Main Street U.S.A., Fantasyland, Adventure land, and Tomorrow land—along with such classic rides and attractions as Space Mountain, Buzz Light year Astro Blasters, Tarzan’s Tree house, and the Jungle River Cruise, as well as high-caliber performances and shows, parades, and an evening fireworks extravaganza. Unique to the park is the world’s only Fantasy Gardens, where Disney characters hang out to meet their fans. Note that admission is higher during peak times, including weekends, public holidays, summer school vacation (July/Aug), and the so-called Golden Week holidays for mainlander Chinese (May and Oct). You can purchase tickets at the gate, in advance online, or at the Hong Kong Disneyland Ticket Express counter at Hong Kong Station in Central, open daily 9am to 9pm.
Ocean Park Kids
If you’re a kid or a kid at heart, you’ll love Ocean Park, a combination marine park and amusement center. Situated along a dramatic rocky coastline on the island’s southern shore, the park is divided into two areas: a “lowland” and a “headland,” connected by cable car. Because of the wide range of attractions, Ocean Park is interesting for children and adults alike. Facilities are first class, and Ocean Park is Asia’s first accredited member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
The lowland is subdivided into several areas and attractions. The most popular residents of Ocean Park are An An and Jia Jia, a pair of pandas presented as gifts from China. Kids’ World has kiddie rides, playgrounds, remote-control cars and boats, shows geared toward children, and shooting-games arcade. Swimming with the dolphins is available at Dolphin University.
From the lowland, visitors board cable cars for a spectacular 8-minute ride over a hill to the headland, while being treated to great views of the coastline and the South China Sea along the way. The headland area, situated on a peninsula that juts into the sea, is also subdivided into several areas and attractions. The marine life section includes an artificial wave cove that is home to sea lions; an aquarium housing more than 1,000 jellyfish and complete with theatrical lighting, multimedia sound, and visual special effects; and a tank with more than 200 sharks and rays representing more than 30 species, viewed from an underwater tunnel. Ocean Theatre features shows by talented dolphins, sea lions, and a whale. But my favorite is the Atoll Reef, one of the world’s largest aquariums, with 2,600 fish of 200 different species. The observation passageway circles the aquarium on four levels, enabling you to view the sea life—everything from giant octopi to schools of tropical fish—from various depths and from different angles. Thrill rides include a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster that turns upside down three times, a rather wet ride on a “raging river,” and a ride in a giant helium balloon that goes 100m in the air. Other exhibits include a Japanese Garden; a 69m-high Ocean Park Tower offering revolving, panoramic views of Aberdeen and outlying islands; and an aviary with 750 birds.
After touring the headland, you can take the long escalator down to the Tai Shue Wan Entrance, from which it’s a short taxi ride to Aberdeen with its sampan rides and floating restaurant. At any rate, to do Ocean Park justice, plan on spending a minimum of 4 hours here, but with kids you’ll probably stay the whole day.
Hotel occupancy in Hong Kong now stands at 86%, with increased demand causing room rates to rise. Hotels are not cheap in the SAR, especially when compared with those in many other Asian cities. Rather, prices are similar to what you’d pay in major U.S. and European cities, and while US$200 might get you the best room in town in Topeka, Kansas, in Hong Kong it will get you a small, undistinguished box not unlike a highway motel room. In other words, except for the cost of getting to Hong Kong, your biggest expenditure is going to be for a place to stay.
Still, bargains can be found, especially online. Upper-end hotels may offer special packages, including weekend getaways, off-season incentives, and upgrades, while lower-end hotels may offer special promotional rates in the off season.
You should always book rooms well in advance, especially if you have a particular hotel, location, or price category in mind. The SAR’s biggest hotel crunches traditionally occur twice a year, during Hong Kong’s most clement weather: in March through May and again in October and November. In addition, major trade fairs at Hong Kong’s convention center can wreak havoc on travelers who arrive without reservations—all of Hong Kong’s hotels will be fully booked. Unsurprisingly, prices are highest during peak season and major trade fairs. While bargains are abundant during the off seasons, many hotels use their published rack rates during peak season and major trade fairs.
As for trends in the hotel industry, Hong Kong’s biggest markets nowadays are business travelers and tourists from mainland China. This translates into crowded elevators and lobbies in the moderately priced hotels that Chinese frequent. Hotels catering to executive-level business travelers, meanwhile, have beefed up business services, from state-of-the-art business centers and in-room Wi-Fi to executive-level rooms offering an even wider range of privileges. In addition, boutique hotels have made their grand entrance into the Hong Kong hotel scene, offering a more intimate atmosphere and unique decor that’s a distinct departure from cookie-cutter hotels.
Hotels have also improved services and in-room amenities, so that even moderately priced rooms nowadays have hair dryers, room safes, mini-bars or refrigerators you can stock yourself, hot-water kettles with free tea and coffee, and usually cable and/or satellite TVs with in-house pay movies. Nonsmoking floors are common in virtually all hotels except for some of the inexpensive ones. Most hotels also have tour desks or can book tours for you through the concierge or front desk.
Unless otherwise stated, all hotels in this book have air-conditioning (a must in Hong Kong), private bathroom (most with tub/shower combinations, though many of the newer moderately priced hotels are going strictly with showers), and telephones with international direct dialing. Room service (either 24 hr. or until the wee hours of the morning), babysitting, and same-day laundry service are standard features of very expensive to moderate hotels, as are Western and Asian restaurants and business centers. Many also offer health clubs with fitness rooms and swimming pools free for guests (though a few charge extra for their use). A growing number of upper-range hotels have also added full-range spas.
Some hotels differentiate among their guests, charging health-club fees, for example, for those who book through a travel agent or through the hotel’s website but not for those who pay rack rates (the maximum quoted rates). Guests booking through travel agents may also receive fewer amenities. Note that while many hotels allow children under a specific age (usually 11 and under) to room free with parents, restrictions apply. Some allow only one child, while others allow a maximum of three people in a room. Almost all charge extra if an extra bed is required.
Shopping is big in Hong Kong, but I’d rate dining right up there with it. I love topping off a shopping expedition to Stanley Market with a meal and drink atop the Jumbo floating restaurant in Aberdeen; ending a hike across Lamma island with an alfresco seafood meal; or splurging on a first-rate dinner at a top floor restaurant with dreamy views of Hong Kong’s stunning skyline. What better way to start the day than sharing a table for dim sum at a noisy Cantonese restaurant, unless it’s Sunday brunch at the Verandah in Repulse Bay?
And you don’t have to spend a lot of money to dine well. Hong Kong is literally riddled with hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, reasonably priced buffet restaurants, and even upscale restaurants offering very good lunch specials. Of course, if you want to spring for a dream meal, you can do that in Hong Kong, too.
In Kowloon, restaurants are concentrated in hotels, in shopping malls, and along Nathan Road and its side streets, such as Knutsford Terrace with its many alfresco eateries. Central District caters to area office workers with a wide range of restaurants in ifc mall and Pacific Place and to night revelers in the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district and SoHo (South of Hollywood Road), with many more restaurants sprinkled in between. Wan Chai, home to both a convention center and the city’s raunchiest nightlife (think strip shows), offers a wide range of restaurants catering to diverse crowds, while the nearby Causeway Bay’s dining scene centers in and around Times Square shopping center. The most striking views are from restaurants atop Victoria Peak, while Stanley, with its market and laid-back beachfront restaurants, seems like a different part of the world altogether.
I should add that many Chinese restaurants often have very long menus, sometimes listing more than 100 dishes. The most expensive dishes will invariably be such delicacies as bird’s nest (bird’s nest is a real nest, created by glutinous secretions of small swifts or swallows to build their nests), shark’s fin, or abalone, for which the sky’s the limit. In specifying price ranges for “main courses” under each Chinese establishment below, therefore, I excluded these delicacies, as well as inexpensive rice and noodle dishes which are considered side dishes (except, of course, in specialized noodle shops). In most cases, therefore, “main courses” refers to meat and vegetable combinations. Remember, since the price range is large, you can eat cheaply even at moderately priced restaurants by choosing wisely. Remember, too, that in Chinese restaurants it’s customary to order one main dish for each diner, plus one extra to share.
The usual lunch hour in the SAR is from 1 to 2pm, when thousands of office workers pour into the city’s more popular restaurants. Try to eat before or after the lunch rush hour, especially in Central, unless you plan on an expensive restaurant or have a reservation.
At 392m, Victoria Peak is Hong Kong Island’s tallest hill, which naturally makes it the best place for spectacular views of the city and surrounding areas. Be sure to bring your camera. If possible, go on a crystal-clear day, since fog—and smog—can greatly curtail vistas. Victoria Peak has always been one of Hong Kong’s most exclusive places to live, since, in addition to the views, the Peak is typically cooler than the sweltering city below. In 1888, the Peak Tram began operations, cutting the journey from a grueling 3 hours to a mere 8 minutes. In 1989, the older, cast iron green funicular cars with mahogany seats were replaced by new, modern cars imported from Switzerland, which increased the passenger load from 72 to 120 people.
The easiest way to reach the Peak Tram Station, located on Garden Road, is to take the no. 15C open-top shuttle bus that operates between the tram terminal and the Star Ferry in Central. Shuttle buses cost HK$4 and run every 15 to 20 minutes between 10am and 11:45pm. Otherwise, it’s about a 10-minute walk from Central’s MTR Station to the tram terminus on Garden Road. Alternatively, you can take bus no. 15 from the Star Ferry terminal directly to the top of Victoria Peak for HK$9.20, but then you’d miss the tram unless you opt to take it down. Finally, you can eschew transportation altogether and walk. I have to admit I’ve never walked up the Peak, but the steep walk down, on shaded Old Peak Road and then Albany Road, is pleasant and brings you to the Zoological & Botanical Gardens in about 30 to 45 minutes; from there it’s another 15 minutes to the MTR Central station.
As for the trams, they depart every 10 to 15 minutes between 7am and midnight. The tram climbs almost vertically for 8 minutes before reaching the top of the Peak—don’t worry, there’s never been an accident in its entire 100-odd years of operation. If you’re interested in the Peak Tram’s history, stop by the Peak Tram Historical Gallery in the tram terminus on Garden Road before boarding the tram (admission is free). One-way tickets for the Peak Tram cost HK$22 for adults and HK$8 for seniors and children. Round-trip tickets cost HK$33 and HK$15, respectively, but there are also combination tickets for the tram and Peak attractions. Or, you can use an Octopus card.
Upon reaching the Peak, you’ll find yourself at the very modern Peak Tower, designed by British architect Terry Farrell. Head straight for the rooftop Sky Terrace viewing deck, where you’ll be privileged to view one of the world’s most breathtaking 360-degree vistas, with sweeping panoramas of Hong Kong Island, the South China Sea, the skyscrapers of Central, boats plying Victoria Harbor, the ever-expanding construction on Kowloon peninsula, and the many hills of the New Territories undulating in the background. It’s open Monday to Friday 10am to 11pm and Saturday, Sunday and holidays 8am to 11pm.
Peak Tower is also home to a handful of Chinese, Western, and Japanese restaurants, as well as some fast-food outlets and a shopping arcade designed to evoke traditional Hong Kong street scenes. Also on the peak is Madame Tussauds Hong Kong, Level 3, Peak Tower, 128 Peak Rd., Victoria Peak, with more than 100 life-size wax figures of national heroes, politicians, historical figures, Olympic medalists, movie stars, and musicians. In addition to the usual figures—Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, Winston Churchill, victims in a medieval torture chamber—there are also local heroes like Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Bruce Lee. It’s open daily from 10am to 10pm and costs HK$120 for adults and HK$70 for seniors and children. Combination tickets for the Peak Tram, Sky Terrace, and Madame Tussauds are also available. You’ll probably spend about 30 minutes here. Kids of all ages will also want to make a stop at the EA Experience, an interactive arcade and store with virtual sporting games and other video games you can try out free of charge.
Across the street from Peak Tower is the Peak Galleria, a three-story complex with more shops, restaurants, an outdoor children’s playground, and a viewing terrace.
But the best thing to do atop Victoria Peak is to take a walk. One of my favorite walks in all of Hong Kong is the hour-long circular hike on Lugard and Harlech roads, both located just a stone’s throw from the Peak Tram terminus (turn right out of the terminus; both streets converge at the Peak Lookout restaurant). Mainly a footpath overhung with banyan trees and passing lush vegetation, it snakes along the side of the cliff, offering great views of the Central District below, the harbor, Kowloon, and then Aberdeen and the outlying islands on the other side. Along the path are signboards identifying flora and fauna. You will also pass several of Victoria Peak’s mansions, though you’ll share the path with joggers, tourists, and locals out for a leisurely stroll. At night, the lighted path offers one of the world’s most romantic views (I don’t recommend walking it alone, however). Don’t miss it.
Traditionally speaking, Chinese restaurants tend to be noisy and crowded affairs, the patrons much more interested in food than in decor. They range from simple diners where the only adornment is likely to be the Formica atop the tables, to very elaborate affairs with Chinese lanterns, splashes of red and gold, and painted screens.
In any case, Chinese restaurants are places for social gatherings; since Hong Kong apartments are usually too small to entertain friends and family, the whole gang simply heads for their favorite restaurant.
The Chinese usually dine in large groups; the more, the merrier. You’ll typically encounter these big groups at dinner, the main meal of the day. In smaller restaurants, sharing a table is a common practice, so if your party is small and a bigger group shows up, you may be asked to share your space or move to another table. As for ordering, the basic rule is to order one dish per person, plus one extra dish or a soup, with all dishes placed in the center of the table and shared by everyone. The more people in your party, therefore, the more dishes are ordered and the more fun you’ll have. Dishes usually come in two or three different sizes, so ask your waiter which size is sufficient for your group.
Because most Chinese restaurants cater to groups and Chinese food is best enjoyed if there are a variety of dishes, lone diners are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to Chinese cuisine. A few restaurants make life easier by offering fixed-price meals, but they’re usually for parties of two people or more. An alternative is to dine at hotel buffets that offer Chinese and international dishes.
You shouldn’t have any problem ordering, since many Chinese restaurants have English menus. If you want to be correct about it, though, a well-balanced meal should contain the five basic tastes of Chinese cuisine—acid, hot, bitter, sweet, and salty. The texture should vary as well, ranging from crisp and tender to dry and saucy. The proper order is to begin with a cold dish, followed by dishes of fish or seafood, meat (pork, beef, or poultry), vegetables, soup, and noodles or rice. Some dishes are steamed, while others may be fried, boiled, or roasted. Many of the dishes are accompanied by sauces, the most common being soy sauce, chili sauce, and hot mustard.
At a Chinese restaurant, the beginning of your meal is heralded by a round of hot towels, a wonderful custom you’ll soon grow addicted to and wish would be adopted by restaurants in your home country. Your eating utensils, of course, will be chopsticks, which have been around for 3,000 years and are perfect for picking up bite-size morsels. If you’re eating rice, pick up the bowl and scoop the rice directly into your mouth with your chopsticks.
As for dining etiquette, it’s considered perfectly acceptable to slurp soup, since this indicates an appreciation of the food and also helps cool the soup so it doesn’t burn the tongue. Toothpicks are also acceptable for use at the table during and after meals; they can even be used to spear foods too slippery or elusive for chopsticks, such as button mushrooms and jellyfish slices. As in most Asian countries, good toothpick manners call for covering your mouth with one hand while you dislodge food particles from your teeth.
Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery
Just one subway stop away from Wong Tai Sin is the Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery, founded in the 1930s to provide religious, cultural, educational, and elderly care services to the Hong Kong community. Reconstructed in the 1990s in the style of Tang dynasty monastic architecture (a.d. 618–907), the nunnery is a successful union of ancient building techniques and modern technology. Imported yellow cedar from Canada was carved in China by skilled artisans and craftsmen and then reconstructed here like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle; no nails were used, but rather a system of wooden doweling and brackets. The main hall was modeled after the Foguang Monastery in Shanxi Province, while the double-eaved Hall of Celestial Kings is designed after the 11th-century Phoenix Hall outside Kyoto, Japan. On nunnery grounds are a lotus pond, sculpted bushes and bonsai, and statues of the Goddess of Mercy, God of Medicine, and others. A better garden, however, the Nan Lian Garden, awaits across the street, connected to the nunnery by a bridge and styled in imitation of a famous classical garden of the Tang Dynasty, with ponds, a waterfall, a hexagonal-shaped pavilion, and a variety of trees and shrubbery. Otherwise, there isn’t much to see; this stopover will appeal mostly to architects, East Asian scholars, and gardeners.
Man Mo Temple
Hong Kong Island’s oldest and most important temple (Taoist) was built in the 1840s. It’s named after its two principal deities: Man, the god of literature, who is dressed in red and holds a calligraphy brush; and Mo, the god of war, wearing a green robe and holding a sword. Two ornate sedan chairs, carved in 1862, were once used during festivals to carry the statues of the gods around the neighborhood. But what makes this evocative temple particularly memorable are the giant incense coils hanging from the ceiling, imparting a fragrant, smoky haze—these are purchased by patrons seeking fulfillment of their wishes, such as good health or a successful business deal, and may burn as long as 3 weeks. No flash photography is allowed inside the temple.
Wong Tai Sin
Located six subway stops northeast of Yau Ma Tei in the far north end of Kowloon, Wong Tai Sin is Hong Kong’s most popular Taoist temple and attracts worshippers of all three traditional Chinese religions: Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Although the temple itself is less than 100 years old, it adheres to traditional Chinese architectural principles with its red pillars, two-tiered golden roof, blue friezes, yellow latticework, and multicolored carvings. Its construction also displays the six elements dictated by geomancy, namely bronze (the pavilion), metal (the archives hall), wood, water (a fountain), fire (Yue Heung Shrine, dedicated to the Buddha of Lighting Lamp), and earth (an earthen wall). The very popular temple attracts those seeking information about their fortunes—from advice about business or horse racing to determining which day is most auspicious for a wedding. Most worshippers make use of a bamboo container holding numbered sticks. After lighting a joss stick and kneeling before the main altar, the worshipper gently shakes the container until one of the sticks falls out. The number corresponds to a certain fortune, which is then interpreted by one of the temple’s many soothsayers.
You can wander around the temple grounds, and visit the halls dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and to Confucius; the Good Wish Garden with ponds, an artificial waterfall, a replica of the famous Nine Dragons relief (the original is in Beijing’s Imperial Palace), and circular, square, octagonal, and fan-shaped pavilions; and a clinic with both Western medical services and traditional Chinese herbal treatments. Sik Sik Yuen, the religious charity organization that oversees Wong Tai Sin, also runs homes for the elderly. Wong Tai Sin takes its name, in fact, from a legendary shepherd who learned the art of healing and pledged his life to help others. A visit to this temple, surrounded by vast, government housing estates, provides insight into Chinese religious practices of today and is well worth a stop despite its out-of-the-way location.
Kowloon Park is Tsim Sha Tsui’s largest recreational and sports facility, boasting an indoor heated Olympic-size swimming pool, three outdoor leisure pools linked by a series of waterfalls, an open-air sculpture garden featuring works by local and overseas sculptors, a Chinese garden, a fitness trail, an aviary, a hedge maze, two children’s playgrounds, and a bird lake with flamingos and other waterfowl. The Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre, with free admission to its displays relating to the historic preservation of Hong Kong’s oldest structures and with free Wi-Fi for those with laptops. On Sundays free kung fu demonstrations take place at the Sculpture Walk from 2:30 to 4:30pm and a small arts fair from 1 to 7pm at the Loggia.
Kowloon Walled City Park
This park is one of Hong Kong’s finest. Although it doesn’t boast the varied attractions of the city’s other parks, the Kowloon Walled City Park, on Tung Tau Tsuen Road, was designed to re-create the style of a classical Southern Chinese garden and is the largest such garden outside China. Beautifully landscaped with man-made hills, ponds, streams, pines, boulders, bonsai, bamboo, and shrubs, it features winding paths through a Chinese zodiac sculpture garden, flower gardens, and pavilions.
Yuen Po Street Bird Garden
While in Hong Kong, you may notice wooden bird cages hanging outside shops or from apartment balconies, or perhaps even see someone walking down the street with a cage. Birds are favorite pets in Chinese households, and the price of a bird is determined not by its plumage but by its singing talents. To see more of these prized songbirds, visit the fascinating Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, Prince Edward Road West, which consists of a series of Chinese-style moon gates and courtyards lined with stalls selling songbirds, beautifully crafted wood and bamboo cages, live crickets and mealy worms, and tiny porcelain food bowls. Nothing, it seems, is too expensive for these tiny creatures. In addition to people buying and selling birds, you will also notice people just taking their birds for an outing. This garden is very Chinese and a lot of fun to see. Incidentally, next door is Flower Market Road, lined with flower shops, while on nearby Tung Choi Street is the Goldfish Market with exotic fish.
Hong Kong Park
Opened in 1991 and stretching 8 hectares along Supreme Court Road and Cotton Tree Drive in Central, Hong Kong Park features a dancing fountain at its entrance; one of Southeast Asia’s largest greenhouses with more than 2,000 rare plant species, including desert and tropical jungle varieties; an aviary housing 600 exotic birds in a tropical rainforest setting with an elevated walkway; various gardens with ponds, streams, and waterfalls; a large children’s playground; and a viewing platform reached by climbing 105 stairs. The most famous building on park grounds is the Museum of Tea Ware housed in the historic Flagstaff House. Since the marriage registry is located on an edge of the park, the gardens are a favorite venue for wedding photographs, especially on weekends and auspicious days of the Chinese calendar.
The park is open daily from 6am to 11pm, the greenhouse and aviary are open daily 9am to 5pm, and the Museum of Tea Ware is open Wednesday through Monday from 10am to 5pm. Admission to all is free. To reach the park, take the MTR to Admiralty Station, and then follow the signs through Pacific Place and up the set of escalators.
The 19-hectare Victoria Park is Hong Kong Island’s largest, located on Causeway and Gloucester roads in Causeway Bay and serving as the green lungs of the city. Constructed on reclaimed land formerly used for a typhoon shelter, it has tennis and squash courts, a 50m outdoor swimming pool and a wading pool, soccer fields, basketball courts, playgrounds, a roller skating rink, a jogging and fitness trail, and — my favorite — a pebble path for massaging the bottom of your feet. It is also popular in early morning for those practicing tai chi, a disciplined physical routine of more than 200 individual movements, designed to exercise every muscle of the body and bring a sense of peace and balance to its practitioners. The Mid-Autumn Festival is held here, as well as a flower market a few days around Chinese New Year. The park is open 24 hours and is free. To reach it, take the MTR or tram to Causeway Bay.
Zoological and Botanical Gardens
Established in 1864, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Upper Albert Road, Central, are spread on the slope of Victoria Peak, making it a popular respite for Hong Kong residents. Come here early, around 7am, and you’ll see Chinese residents going through the slow motions of tai chi. In the gardens themselves, which retain some of their Victorian charm, flowers are almost always in bloom, from azaleas in the spring to wisteria and bauhinia in the summer and fall. More than 1,000 species of plants, most of them indigenous to tropical and subtropical regions and planted throughout the grounds, include Burmese rosewood trees, varieties of bamboo, Indian rubber trees, camphor trees, a variety of camellia, herbs, and, in a greenhouse, orchids. The small zoo houses 600 birds, 90 mammals, and 20 reptiles, including jaguars, orangutans, tamarins, kangaroos, flamingos, a Burmese python, Palawan peacocks, birds of paradise from Papua New Guinea, cranes, and Mandarin ducks. The zoo is well known for its success in breeding birds on the verge of extinction and for supplying zoos around the world with new stock.
If you’re tired of Central and its traffic, this is a pleasant place to regain your perspective. On site is also a good children’s playground. Admission is free. The eastern part of the park, called Fountain Terrace and containing most of the botanical gardens and the aviaries, is open daily from 6am to 10pm, while the western half, with its reptiles and mammals, is open daily from 6am to 7pm.
If you plan to visit Hong Kong’s main museums, you can save money by purchasing the Museum Pass for HK$30, valid for a week and available at any of the participating museums or Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Information and Services Centers. Note, however, that museum admissions are free on Wednesdays.
Hong Kong Museum of Art
Because of its convenient location on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, just a 2-minute walk from the Star Ferry terminus, and its manageable size, this museum is the most worthwhile if your time is limited. I love popping in to see the special exhibits and the museum’s vast collection of Chinese antiquities and fine art—shown on a rotating basis—that make this one of my top picks in Hong Kong. Feast your eyes on ceramics, bronzes, jade, cloisonné, lacquer ware, bamboo carvings, and textiles, as well as paintings, wall hangings, scrolls, and calligraphy dating from the 16th century to the present. The works are arranged in five permanent galleries on three floors of exhibit space, plus two galleries devoted to changing exhibits. The Historical Pictures Gallery is especially insightful, with works in oils, watercolors, pencil drawings, and prints that provide a visual account of life in Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangzhou (Canton) in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Another gallery displays contemporary Hong Kong works by local artists. You’ll want to spend at least an hour here, though art aficionados can devote more time by renting audio guides for HK$10. A bonus is the beautiful backdrop of Victoria Harbor.
Hong Kong Museum of History
If you visit only one museum in Hong Kong and you’re prepared to spend at least 2 hours, this should be it. Make it one of your first priorities, so you’ll have a better understanding of what you see during the rest of your trip. The permanent exhibit the Hong Kong Story is an ambitious attempt to chronicle the city’s long and fascinating history, starting with the formation of its natural history and its beginnings as a Neolithic settlement and continuing through its development as a fishing village, subsequent transformation into a modern metropolis. Through displays that include dioramas, replicas of fishing boats, models, reconstructed traditional housing, furniture, clothing, and items from daily life, the museum introduces Hong Kong’s ethnic groups and their traditional means of livelihood, customs, and beliefs. These include fishermen who lived their entire lives on boats, the Five Great Clans who settled in what is now the New Territories and built walled communities, the Hoklo, and the Hakka, primarily rice farmers.
Hong Kong Science Museum
The mysteries of science and technology come to life here, with plenty of hands-on exhibits sure to appeal to children and adults alike. More than 500 exhibits cover four floors, with sections devoted to the life sciences; light, sound, and motion; meteorology and geography; electricity and magnetism; computers and robotics; construction; transportation and communication; occupational safety and health; energy efficiency; and food science and home technology. Children ages 3 to 7 can have free reign of an area designed especially for them. Visitors can play with different optical illusions, enter a rotating room to learn physics in a noninertial frame, “freeze” their shadows on a wall, pick up remote voices with a large parabolic disc, play with bubbles, navigate a flight over Hong Kong Island or Kowloon at night, watch the mechanisms of an eight-cylinder gasoline engine, and learn about herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. There are exhibits designed to test a visitor’s fitness, such as lung capacity, endurance, and blood pressure. The computer section has more than 30 personal computers for guests to learn about computer software, including word processing for children and graphics production (to access the Internet, however, you’ll have to go to the museum’s Resource Center, where two computers are available for you to use for free until 6pm on weekdays and 7pm on weekends). This is a great place to bring kids on a rainy or humid day, when you’ll want spend about 3 hours here.
Hong Kong Space Museum
Located in front of The Peninsula hotel on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, the Space Museum is easy to spot with its white-domed planetarium. It’s divided into two parts: the Exhibition Halls with their Hall of Space Science and the Hall of Astronomy, and the Stanley Ho Space Theatre. The Hall of Space Science explores the human journey into space, with exhibits on ancient astronomical history, science fiction, early rockets, manned space flights, and future space programs. Several interactive rides and exhibits (most with weight and height restrictions) include a ride on a virtual paraglider, a harness that holds occupants aloft with the same approximate gravity they’d experience walking on the moon, and a multi-axis chair developed for astronaut training that gives the sensation of tumbling through space. The Hall of Astronomy presents information on the solar system, solar science, the stars, and the universe. However, I find the museum, which opened in 1980, rather dated. Come only if you have kids and extra time on your hands, in which case you’ll spend about an hour here.
Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Shoppers in need of a break (or their companions in need of a break from fellow shoppers) might find respite in this museum near Stanley Market. It’s located in the historic 1846 Murray House, which once stood in Central but was dismantled in the early 1980s and reassembled here on the Stanley waterfront. The museum is divided into two galleries: The Ancient Gallery follows the development of Chinese vessels, from war boats and trading ships to Chinese junks, while the Modern Gallery concentrates on the evolution of Hong Kong’s shipping industry and how that industry has changed with the arrival of bulk carriers, tankers, and container ships. Visitors can steer a container ship in a bridge simulator, see memorabilia from the golden age of ocean steamers, and listen via headphones to a former waiter describe his life working on passenger cargo lines. I was particularly captivated by the 50-some boat models on display, all wonderfully crafted down to the minutest details. Depending on your interest, you’ll spend 45 to 60 minutes here.
Museum of Tea Ware
Flagstaff House, located in Hong Kong Park, a museum devoted to the subject of tea culture in China, its collection includes about 600 pieces of tea ware ranging from earthenware to porcelain, primarily of Chinese origin, dating from the 7th century to the present day. However, only 150 or so pieces are on display at any one time, with exhibitions changed two or three times a year. I always find them fascinating, especially the exhibits describing the various kinds of tea and tea-making methods favored by the major dynasties. Don’t miss the museum shop, which sells beautifully crafted teapots as well as teas. You can see everything here in about 30 minutes.
Hong Kong is perpetually revving up its sightseeing potential, opening new attractions and revamping older ones, expanding museums or developing new ones, and redesigning organized sightseeing tours to reflect the territory’s changing demographics. On the other hand, if all you want to do is hike or lie on the beach, you can do that, too.
If you really want to do Hong Kong justice, plan on staying at least a week. However, since the city is so compact and its transportation is so efficient, you can see quite a bit of the city and its outlying islands in 3 to 5 days, especially if you’re on the go from dawn until past dusk. In fact, some of Hong Kong’s greatest sites are seen from public transportation. To get the most out of your time, it makes sense to divide the city into sections when planning your sightseeing.
The stars of the Hong Kong stage, of course, are the Star Ferries, green-and-white vessels that have been carrying passengers back and forth between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island since 1898. At only HK$1.70 for the regular, lower-deck fare, it’s one of the cheapest—and yet most dramatic—harbor rides in the world. The entire trip from pier to pier takes about 7 minutes in all, with approximately 400 crossings a day.
Since a 5-minute ride isn’t nearly enough time to soak up the ambience of Victoria Harbor, another great way to relax and view the skyline is on a ferry to an outlying island. These ferries, which depart from the Central Ferry Piers, are by far the cheapest way to see Hong Kong’s harbor, with most trips lasting less than an hour. Some even offer an outside deck, where you can watch Hong Kong float past. In fact, part of the fun in visiting an outlying island is the ferry ride there and back.
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
Start the day with an early morning stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, from which you have a great view of the harbor with its boat traffic and Hong Kong Island. If it’s Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, you might even want to join a free 1-hour lesson in tai chi, conducted at 8am in the Hong Kong Museum of Art’s Sculpture Court near the promenade.
Hong Kong Museum of Art
Beside the Cultural Centre is this impressive museum housing Hong Kong’s best collection of Chinese antiquities and fine art, including bronzes, paintings, and ceramics, shown on a rotating basis. Its relatively small size makes it easy to see in an hour or less; I also like the Victoria Harbour views from its windows. Closed Tuesday, open the rest of the week at 10am.
Chinese Arts and Crafts Ltd
For one-stop shopping, this two-story Chinese emporium in the Star House, across from the Star Ferry, is Hong Kong’s best upscale chain for high-quality jade, jewelry, Chinese clothing, embroidered tablecloths, antiques, rosewood furniture, and more. If you’re looking for a gift—or something special for yourself—this is a good place to look.
No visit to Hong Kong would be complete without at least one trip across Victoria Harbour aboard one of the famous Star Ferries, which have been plying the waters between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon since 1898. The 5-minute trip will deposit you at the Central Ferry Piers, where other ferries depart for the outlying islands.
Board the Peak Tram, which began operations in 1888, for its 8-minute climb up Victoria Peak, where you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views from Hong Kong Island’s tallest hill if the weather is clear. Peak Tower has an observation platform with 360-degree panoramic views. If you have the time and energy, walk the 1-hour circular stroll around the Peak.
TAKE A BREAK
The Peak Lookout, a former tram station across from Peak Tower, is a delightful setting for American, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Southeast Asian fare, especially if the weather is nice and you can sit on its outdoor terrace surrounded by lush greenery. Other good choices abound in Peak Tower and Peak Galleria across the street.
Nicknamed the “Golden Mile of Shopping” for its endless string of shops selling electronics, jewelry, clothing, and a million other goods, this is Kowloon’s most famous street.
Hong Kong Museum of History
For a quick course in Hong Kong’s history, from its days as a small fishing village through its years as a British colony, this museum is a must-see. Closed Tuesday; open to 6pm (7pm Sun and holidays).
Temple Street Night Market
Hong Kong’s most famous night market exudes a festive atmosphere with its outdoor stalls selling everything from Chinese souvenirs to clothing and accessories, fortune-tellers, and street opera singers. Open daily from 4pm, but the real action doesn’t get underway until 7pm.
With dozens of airlines and half a dozen cruise lines serving Hong Kong from around the world, it’s certainly not difficult to get there. Your itinerary, the amount of time you have, and your pocketbook will probably dictate how you travel. Below are some pointers to get you headed in the right direction.
Because the flight to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) is such a long one (almost 16 hr. from Chicago, 12 hr. from London, and 9 hr. from Sydney), you may want a roomier seat and upgraded service, including special counters for check-in, private lounges at the airport, and better meals, as well as a higher ticket price when choosing your carrier. You should also consider a mileage program, since this round-trip flight will earn you a lot of miles.
Airlines that fly between North America and Hong Kong include Air Canada, Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong’s own airline), Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Korean Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and United Airlines.
From the United Kingdom, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Virgin Atlantic Airways offer daily nonstop service from London to Hong Kong. All three airlines also offer flights from Australia, while Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand also offer service from New Zealand.
Dragonair is a Hong-Kong based airline that serves many cities in Asia. Likewise, sister airlines Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express are both based in Hong Kong and service some 30 cities in Asia.
The Beijing–Kowloon Railway provides a direct link between the two cities in approximately 24 hours. One-way tickets cost HK$1,191 for a bed in a deluxe, two-bed cabin, HK$934 for a “soft bed” in a four bed cabin, and HK$601 for a “hard bed” in a six-bed cabin. Service is also available from Shanghai in about 20 hours, costing HK$508 to HK$1,039 one-way, and from Guangzhou, costing HK$190 to HK$230 and taking less than 2 hours.
The end terminus for train travel to Hong Kong is Hung Hom in Kowloon, with MTR service onward to East Tsim Sha Tsui Station and its many hotels.
Some 30 international cruise ships make Hong Kong a port of call each year. The SAR’s main docking facility for cruise liners is Ocean Terminal, located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui and part of a massive shopping complex which includes 700 shops and 50 restaurants. Just a stone’s throw away is the Star Ferry with service to Hong Kong Island.
Extensive ferry service from neighboring Guangdong Province, is offered by the Chu Kong Passenger Transport Co. Ferries from Nan Hai (port of call for Guangzhou), Zhu Hai, Shantou, Sanbu, and a dozen other cities arrive at the China HK Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui.
TurboJet operates jetfoil service from Macau and Shenzhen to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island, with MTR connection to the rest of the city. A limited number of jetfoils also go to the China HK Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Hong Kong is a great place for older kids, since many of the attractions are geared toward them and even offer discounts for children, sometimes as much as 50%. Public transportation is half price for children. As for very young children, keep in mind that there are many stairs to climb, particularly in Central with its elevated walkways, and in subway stations, making child backpack carriers easier than strollers.
As for hotels, many allow children under a certain age to stay free of charge in their parent’s room. Generally, only one child is allowed, or there’s a maximum limit of three persons per room, and no extra charge only when no extra bed is required. Baby cots are usually available free of charge, and most hotels also offer babysitting.
You shouldn’t have any problems as a single traveler to Hong Kong. Nearly every time I come here, I travel alone. The biggest problem is one of expense, since many hotels charge the same regardless of whether it’s for single or double occupancy. The other problem is Chinese food—it’s best when enjoyed with a group. Try fixed-price meals or all-you-can-eat buffets when dining alone, or join one of the organized tours where meals are often included.
Students receive a slight discount to most museums in Hong Kong, but major attractions like Ocean Park do not offer discounts.
Seniors receive half-price admission to most museums in Hong Kong. In addition, seniors can ride the cross-harbor ferry free of charge and receive reduced fares for ferries to the outlying islands, the trams (including the Peak Tram), and the subway system. Some discounts are available to seniors 61 and older; others for seniors 66 and older. In any case, seniors should carry identification for proof of age and should keep in mind that there are many stairs to climb in Hong Kong, including overhead pedestrian bridges and in subway stations. Remember that it is very hot and humid in summer.
Travelers with Disabilities
Hong Kong can be inconvenient for travelers with disabilities. City sidewalks—especially in Central and Kowloon—can be so jam-packed that getting around on crutches or in a wheelchair is very difficult. Moreover, to cross busy thoroughfares it’s often necessary to climb stairs to a pedestrian bridge. Also, most shops are a step or two up from the street.
As for transportation, taxi is probably the most convenient mode of transportation, especially since they can load and unload passengers with disabilities in restricted zones under certain conditions and do not charge extra for carrying wheelchairs and crutches. Otherwise, the MTR (subway) has wheelchair access (elevators or ramps) at major stations, as well as tactile pathways leading to platforms and exits for the visually impaired. Ferries are accessible to wheelchair users on the lower deck, and approximately 41% of buses are wheelchair accessible.
Ferry to Lantau
Though you can now reach Lantau via MTR followed by cable car, I recommend the old-fashioned method of transportation—the ferry—on your outbound journey, where from the outdoor deck in deluxe class you’re treated to great views along the way. Aim for the 8:30am ferry departure (9am on Sun).
Bus to Ngong Ping Plateau
Bus no. 2 from Silvermine Bay (Mui Wo in Chinese) hurtles around curves and up and down lush countryside on its 45-minute trip to Ngong Ping.
Built in 1993, this is the world’s largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha. Climb 260-some steps to the viewing platform for sweeping views from Ngong Ping Plateau, 738m (2,420 ft.) above sea level.
Large wooden pillars, placed in the form of a figure eight to symbolize infinity, display the Heart Sutra, a centuries-old prayer revered by Confucians, Buddhists, and Taoists alike.
Ngong Ping Village
Ngong Ping’s newest attraction features “Walking with Buddha,” a multimedia experience relating Siddhartha’s path to enlightenment; “Monkey’s Tale Theatre,” which presents the parable of a selfish monkey who learns a powerful lesson about sharing and kindness; Ngong Ping Tea House, offering fine teas and cakes and demonstrations of traditional Chinese tea ceremonies; the Oriental Massage Center offering foot reflexology; and restaurants and shops.
Ngong Ping Skyrail
This cable car travels 5.7km (31/2 miles) in about 25 minutes, providing panoramic views of Lantau, the South China Sea, and even the airport along the way.
The cable car deposits you at Tung Chung, where you’ll find Hong Kong’s only outlet mall offering discounts on international name brands.
Lan Kwai Fong
It’s a party scene every night in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s most famous nightlife district. Bars and restaurants beckon with open facades, and the action invariably spills out onto the streets.
This classy shop revolutionized traditional Chinese clothing with mod cheongsams, Chinese jackets, and other fashionable wear in eye-popping colors.
Li Yuen Street East & Li Yuen Street West
These two parallel pedestrian lanes between Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central are packed with stalls selling clothing and accessories, both Western and Chinese.
West of Central, this colorful neighborhood features traditional Chinese shops selling ginseng, herbal medicine and preserved foods, concentrated on Wing Lok Street, Des Voeux Road, and Queen’s Road West.
This long street stretching through the Western District to Central is lined with shops selling high-end Chinese antiques and furniture, as well as curio stores selling snuff bottles, old postcards, and bric-abrac.
A pedestrian lane parallel to Hollywood Road, it’s lined with street vendors and shops selling antiques, junk, and reproductions.
Man Mo Temple
Located on Hollywood Road and dating back to the 1840s, Hong Kong Island’s oldest temple makes for a picturesque and peaceful stop.
Although now surrounded by high-rises, Aberdeen is still known for its fishing fleet of modern boats and traditional junks, many inhabited by boat people who have lived on the sea for generations. If you wish, you can take a sampan tour for an up-close view.
This market is great for both Western and Chinese clothing for the whole family, as well as traditional Chinese souvenirs, making it a fun, laid-back destination.
Symphony of Lights
Guinness World Records rates this the world’s largest permanent light-and-sound show, where every evening at 8pm more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbor put on a light-and-laser show. The best vantage point is on the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade.
The only document most tourists need to enter the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is a passport, valid for at least 1 month beyond the planned departure date from Hong Kong. Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and other British Commonwealth citizens can stay for 90 days without a visa, while citizens of the United Kingdom can stay for 180 days without a visa. Immigration officers may also ask arriving visitors for proof of onward travel or a return ticket (unless they are in transit to mainland China or Macau) and proof that they have adequate funds for their stay in Hong Kong (generally, a confirmed hotel reservation and a credit card will suffice).
Once in Hong Kong, visitors must carry photo identification at all times, such as a passport or driver’s license. Safeguard your passport in an inconspicuous, inaccessible place like a money belt. If you lose it, visit the nearest consulate of your native country as soon as possible for a replacement. As an extra safety precaution, it’s a good idea to photocopy your passport; keep a copy separate from your passport, such as in your luggage, and give a copy to family or friends at home.
If you plan to make an excursion to mainland China, you’ll need a visa, which can be obtained easily in Hong Kong. Applications require one photo and generally take 3 working days to process. Your passport must have at least 6 months validity beyond your planned date of departure.
Visitors 18 and older are allowed to bring into the SAR duty-free a 1-liter (34-oz.) bottle of alcohol and 60 cigarettes (or 15 cigars or 75 grams of tobacco).
When to go
Hong Kong’s peak tourist season used to be in spring and fall, but now tourists come to Hong Kong virtually year-round, especially from neighboring mainland China. It’s best, therefore, to make hotel reservations in advance, particularly if you’re arriving during the Chinese New Year, one of the festivals described below, or the two peak vacation periods for mainland Chinese (the so-called “Golden Weeks” beginning May 1 and Oct 1). In addition, major conventions and trade fairs can also tie up the city’s best hotels, particularly in spring (Mar–Apr) and autumn (Oct–Nov). If you’re on a budget, keep in mind that many Hong Kong hotels offer package deals and cheaper rates in summer and winter.
Because of its subtropical location, Hong Kong’s weather is generally mild in winter and uncomfortably hot and humid in summer, with an average annual rainfall of 2.3m (89 in.). The most pleasant time of year is late September through early December, when skies are clear and sunny, temperatures are around 70° to 78°F (21°–26°C), and the humidity drops to 70%. January and February are the coldest months, when temperatures can drop to 50°F (10°C) but usually stay between 50° and 60°F (14°– 20°C). You’ll want a jacket during this time.
In spring (Mar–May), the temperature can range between 64° and 81°F (18°– 27°C) and the humidity rises to about 82%, with fog and rain fairly common. That means you’ll need a raincoat and the cloud-enveloped Victoria Peak won’t provide much of a view. By May, it can also be quite hot and muggy.
By summer (late May to mid-Sept), temperatures are often between 89° and 99°F (32°–37°C), humidity can be 90% or more, and there’s little or no relief, even at night. If you’re visiting the SAR this time of year, you’d be prudent to carry a hat, sun block, sunglasses, and plenty of bottled water with you wherever you go. You’ll also want a light jacket for air-conditioned rooms and an umbrella. This is when Hong Kong receives the most rain; it’s also typhoon season. However, Hong Kong has a very good warning system, so there’s no need to worry about the dangers of a tropical storm.
Hong Kong has 17 public holidays a year, including some of the festivals described below. The majority are Chinese and are therefore celebrated according to the lunar calendar, with different dates each year. Since most shops, restaurants, and attractions remain open except during the Chinese New Year, the holidays should not cause any inconvenience to visitors. Banks, however, are closed.
Running Free in Hong Kong’s City Parks: Hong Kong’s parks are great destinations for families. Children can go swimming or explore playgrounds at Kowloon Park, see jaguars and monkeys at the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and walk through an aviary at Hong Kong Park.
Cavorting with Mickey at Hong Kong Disneyland: The smallest of the world’s Disney properties, Hong Kong Disneyland nevertheless has the usual attractions, high-powered shows, and fireworks extravaganzas, as well as the world’s only Fantasy Gardens, where kids can meet famous Disney characters. A must for families crossing all Disney properties off their to-do list.
Regressing to Childhood at Ocean Park: Southeast Asia’s largest oceanarium and fun park boasts one of the world’s longest and fastest roller coasters among its many thrill rides; a great cable-car ride with breathtaking views of the South China Sea; and playgrounds just for kids. If it’s wildlife you’re wild about, you’ll find the world’s largest reef aquarium, a shark tank with an underwater pedestrian tunnel, a fascinating collection of weird and wonderful goldfish, an aviary, pandas, and a dolphin and killer whale show. A must for kids of all ages.
Heading for the Beach: Life’s a beach at a number of Hong Kong Island destinations, but to make an excursion out of it, take a ferry (kids love that!) to one of the outlying islands like Cheung Chau or Lamma, where there are beaches with lifeguards, changing rooms, and showers.
Looking for Chinese Souvenirs: Hong Kong has some great Chinese emporiums, selling vases, vase stands, porcelain figurines, chinaware, calligraphy brushes birdcages, jade, jewelry, silk jackets, furniture, teas, and various Chinese crafts and products.
Browsing Antiques Shops on Hollywood Road: Whether you have thousands of dollars to spend on Ming dynasty heirlooms or just a couple of bucks for a snuff bottle, there’s something for everyone in the dozens of antiques shops lining this famous Hong Kong Island road and from outdoor vendor stalls on nearby Cat Street. A sightseeing bonus is Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong’s oldest temple, on Hollywood Road.
Window-Shopping on Nathan Road: Open-fronted clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, camera shops, tailors, tourists from around the world, international cuisine, huge neon signs, and whirling traffic combine to make this boulevard Hong Kong’s most famous shopping street.
Feeling Groovy at Shanghai Tang: This 1930s-style Chinese department store is oh-so-chic, with lime-green- or fuchsia-colored jackets, 1930s reproduction home decor, and more. The shopping bag that comes with your purchase is a bonus—just way too cool—and the shop’s free postcards are also pretty fab.
Bargaining at a Street Market: Hong Kong has more street markets than you can shake a stick at, located on both sides of the harbor and in operation from morning to night. Most famous is Temple Street Night Market, where you can shop for casual clothing, music, toys, and accessories; enjoy a meal at a dai pai dong (roadside food stall); watch amateur street musicians; and have your fortune told.
Bargain-Hunting in Stanley: Stall after stall of casual wear, silk clothing, tennis shoes, accessories, and souvenirs and crafts imported from China make this a shopper’s paradise. And after a day of bargaining, I like to recuperate in one of Stanley’s trendy yet casual restaurants.
Shopping for Everything at a Mall: Hong Kong is famous for its shopping malls, and with good reason. Ranging from humongous affairs like Harbour City to chic, high-end complexes like ifc mall, shopping malls are great escapes on humid or rainy days and offer everything from clothing and toys to electronics and antiques.
Visiting a Tailor: Nothing beats the satisfaction of having something custom-made to fit you perfectly. If this is your dream, make a trek to a tailor one of your first priorities so that you’ll have time for several fittings.
If you’re lucky, your trip might coincide with one of Hong Kong’s colorful festivals. The only festival that shops and offices close for is the Chinese New Year, though some in Tsim Sha Tsui remain open to cater to tourists. Below are the most popular events, including Chinese festivals and festivals of the arts.
Chinese New Year, the most important Chinese holiday, this is a 3-day affair, a time for visiting friends and relatives and doing a thorough housecleaning. Strips of red paper with greetings of wealth, good fortune, and longevity are pasted on doors, and families visit temples. Most shops (except those in tourist areas) close down for at least 2 or 3 days; streets and building facades are decorated with elaborate light displays; flower markets sell peach trees, chrysanthemums, and other good-luck flowers; a colorful parade winds its way along the waterfront, usually on the first day; and a dazzling display of fireworks lights up the harbor, usually on the second day of the holiday.
Hong Kong Arts Festival
This is a month-long celebration with performances by world-renowned orchestras, pop and jazz ensembles, and opera, dance, and theater companies; and with ethnic music and art exhibitions.
Hong Kong Sevens Rugby Tournament, Hong Kong Stadium. Known as “The Sevens,” this is one of Hong Kong’s most popular, and one of Asia’s largest, sporting events, with more than 20 teams from around the world competing for the Cup Championship. Tickets are often sold out.
Ching Ming Festival, a Confucian festival to honor the dead, observed by sweeping ancestral graves, burning incense, offering food and flowers.
Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, City Hall, and other venues around town. More than 300 films from more than 40 countries are featured at this 2-week event, including new releases, documentaries, and archival films. Tickets for most events cost HK$55.
Tin Hau Festival, all Tin Hau temples, especially in Joss House Bay and Yuen Long. This colorful festival celebrates the birth of Tin Hau, goddess of the sea and Hong Kong’s most popular deity among fishing folk. The celebration stems from a legendary fisherman’s daughter who could supposedly calm stormy seas and protect fishermen. To pay her tribute, fishing boats are decorated with colorful flags, parades and lion dances fill the streets, and family shrines are carried to shore to be blessed by Taoist priests. A similar festival is held at A-Ma Temple in Macau.
Buddha’s Birthday, Buddhist temples throughout Hong Kong. Worshippers flock to pay respect to Siddhartha, founder of Buddhism, and to bathe Buddha statues. The Po Lin Monastery on Lantau island is one of the most popular destinations on this day.
Dragon Boat Races (Tuen Ng Festival). Races of long, narrow, gaily painted boats are powered by 20 to 22 oarsmen who row to the beat of drums. The races originated in ancient China.
Mid-Autumn Festival, Victoria Park, Kowloon Park, and Victoria Peak. Held in early autumn, this major festival (sometimes referred to as the Moon Festival) celebrates the harvest and the brightest moon of the year. In honor of the event, local people light lanterns in the shapes of fish, flowers, and even ships and planes, gaze at the moon, and eat mooncakes (sweet rolls with sesame seeds, duck eggs, and ground lotus seeds). The Urban Council organizes lantern carnivals in parks on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, where you can join the Chinese for strolls among hundreds of lanterns, making this one of Hong Kong’s most charming and picturesque festivals. In addition, don’t miss the dragon fire dance in Causeway Bay’s Tai Hang district.
Taking a Tram: Take a double-decker tram ride from one end of Hong Kong Island to the other for an unparalleled view of life in the crowded city as you pass skyscrapers, street markets, traditional Chinese shops, and department stores.
Aboard the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator: Hop aboard the world’s longest covered people mover as it snakes its way uphill in a series of escalators. You can hop off at one of 29 exits to enjoy a drink or meal at one of the many establishments along its link, or take it to the top for a 20-minute ride.
Having Your Fortune Told: Want to know about your future love life, marriage, family, or career? Consult one of Hong Kong’s many fortune-tellers; those who speak English can be found at Man Mo Temple in the Western District, Wong Tai Sin temple, and the Tin Hau Temple near the Temple Street Night Market.
Hearing the Birds Sing at Yuen Po Street Bird Garden: See pampered birds at this unusual garden, brought by their owners so they can sing and communicate with other birds on their daily outing. Vendors sell exotic birds, wooden birdcages, porcelain bird dishes, and other paraphernalia.
The New Territories: The New Territories are a vast area stretching from the densely populated Kowloon to the Chinese border. Almost half of Hong Kong’s population is housed here in huge satellite towns, but pockets of rural life and preserved country parks remain. One of the best things to do is follow a self-guided hike that will take you past traditional Chinese homes, temples, and other buildings in a small village.
Hiking Across Lamma: An excursion to this outlying island will do your soul good. Start with the 35-minute ferry trip, followed by a 90-minute hike across the island, perhaps some swimming at a beach, and finally a meal of fresh seafood at an open-air waterfront restaurant.
Like many destinations around the world, Hong Kong is a product of its geography, history, and people. With a population approaching seven million and a total land area less than half the size of Luxembourg (or Rhode Island), Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The best place to appreciate this is atop Victoria Peak, where you can feast your eyes on Hong Kong’s famous harbor and, as far as the eye can see, high-rise apartments and office buildings. It’s saved by undulating mountain peaks, which cover virtually all of Hong Kong and provide dramatic background to the cityscape and coastal areas. Indeed, viewed from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Hong Kong was founded as a place to conduct business and to trade, and it continues to serve that purpose both aggressively and successfully. Hong Kong is the “Wall Street of Asia,” with banking, international insurance, advertising, and publishing among its biggest industries. Hong Kong is the world’s eighth-largest trading economy and is one of the world’s leading exporters of toys, garments, and watches. Little wonder, then, that as a duty-free port, Hong Kong attracts approximately 28 million visitors a year, making tourism one of its leading industries.
Dining is one of the things to do in Hong Kong. Half the population dines in the city’s estimated 9,000 eateries every day. Not only is the food excellent, but the range of culinary possibilities is nothing short of staggering. Hong Kong also has what may well be the greatest concentration of Chinese restaurants in the world. In a few short days, you can take a culinary tour of virtually every major region of China. Some restaurants are huge, bustling, family affairs, countless others are mere holes in the wall, and a few of the trendiest are Shanghai chic, or strikingly modern affairs with sweeping views of the city.
Back in the 1980s, Hong Kong’s most well known, exclusive restaurants, both Chinese and Western, were located primarily in hotels. That’s not surprising when you realize that first-class hotels were accustomed to catering to well-traveled visitors who demanded high quality in service, cuisine, and decor. In a welcoming trend that began near the end of the last century, however, enterprising, ambitious, and talented chefs began opening establishments in ever-greater numbers, often in modest but imaginative surroundings or in swanky digs on top floors of highrises. These included ethnic restaurants as well as eateries offering completely unique dishes, with limited but intriguing menus. A cluster of these restaurants even created a whole new dining enclave, located on the steep hill alongside the Central–Mid-Levels Escalator that connects Central with the Mid-Levels. Dubbed “SoHo” for the region “south of Hollywood Road,” it blossomed into an ever-growing dining and nightlife district, making it Hong Kong’s most exciting culinary scene.
Today, what began as a trickle in SoHo has now engulfed virtually all of Hong Kong. Restaurants stretch from the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district all the way to SoHo and beyond. Knutsford Terrace, an alley in Tsim Sha Tsui that has been struggling to establish itself as a Kowloon dining mecca for more years than I can remember, has finally succeeded, with one packed venue after the other offering alfresco dining. All shopping centers offer a long list of dining possibilities, some quite excellent, and with Hong Kong’s never-ending land reclamation and development.
On the other hand, there has never been as many dining possibilities as there are now, with French, Italian, American, Mexican, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, and other ethnic eateries available even in far-flung parts of Hong Kong. Other welcome trends are the inclusion of vegetarian and healthy foods on many menus and the growing popularity of crossover, East-meets-West fusion cuisine, which capitalizes on ingredients and flavors from both sides of the Pacific Rim. And of course, hotel restaurants remain among the best in town, from legendary classics to innovative cutting edge.
I’m convinced that you can eat as well in Hong Kong as in any other city in the world. And no matter where you eat or how much you spend, it’s sure to be an adventure of the senses. Little wonder, then, that a common greeting among Chinese in Hong Kong translates literally as “Have you eaten?” In Hong Kong, eating is the most important order of the day.
Hong Kong is such a feast for the senses, it reminds me of a movie set. Maybe I’m an romantic, but when I stand at the railing of the famous Star Ferry as it glides across the harbor, ride a rickety old tram as it winds its way across Hong Kong Island, or marvel at the stunning views afforded from atop Victoria Peak, I can’t help but think I must have somehow landed in the middle of an epic drama where the past has melted into the present. So many images float by—wooden boats bobbing up and down in the harbor beside huge ocean liners; tenements next to ultramodern high-rises; alleys behind luxury hotels.
In fact, one of the most striking characteristics of Hong Kong is this interweaving of seeming contradictions and the interplay of the exotic and the technically advanced. There are as many skyscrapers here as you’re likely to see anywhere, but they’re built with bamboo scaffolding and in accordance with the principles of feng shui. Historic trams rumble through Central, while below ground is one of the most efficient subways in the world, complete with the world’s first “contactless” tickets, cards that can be waved over a scanner without even taking them out of your purse or wallet. The city has what are arguably some of the best and most sophisticated restaurants in the world, but it also has dai pai dong, street-side food stalls. Hong Kong is home to one of the world’s largest shopping malls, but lively makeshift street markets are virtually everywhere.
The more you search for in Hong Kong, the more you’ll find. Before long, you, too, may find yourself swept up in the drama.
Observing a Chinese Festival: Hong Kong celebrates with several colorful festivals throughout the year, featuring everything from dragon boat races to celebrations honoring Tin Hau, goddess of the sea. Cantonese opera, performed on temporary stages, is also common at Chinese festivals.
Riding the Star Ferry: The subway between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island may be quicker, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the historic Star Ferry, offering one of the most dramatic — and cheapest—5-minute boat rides in the world. The trip is a good reminder that Hong Kong, with its breathtaking skyline, is dominated by water, with one of the world’s busiest harbors.
Gazing upon Hong Kong from Victoria Peak: You don’t know Hong Kong until you’ve seen it from here. Take the funicular to Victoria Peak, famous for its views of Central, Victoria Harbour, South China Sea, Kowloon, and undulating hills beyond, followed by a 1-hour circular hike and a meal with a view. Don’t miss the nighttime view, one of the most spectacular and romantic in the world.
Listening to the World’s Largest Professional Chinese Orchestra: Established 30 years ago, the 80-member Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra is the world’s largest, playing traditional and modern Chinese instruments in orchestrations that combine Chinese and Western musical elements.
Celebrating Sundown with a Cocktail: Many hotel lounges offer spectacular views of the city as well as live music.
Partying until Dawn in Lan Kwai Fong: It’s standing room only at bars and pubs in Central’s most famous nightlife district, where the action spills out onto the street and continues until dawn. Other burgeoning nightlife districts include SoHo, Knutsford Terrace, and Wan Chai.
Paying Respects at the Big Buddha: Laze on the open aft deck during the 50-minute ferry ride to Lantau island (and enjoy great views of the harbor and skyline along the way), followed by a bus ride over lush hills to see the world’s largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha, located at the Po Lin Monastery. Complete your pilgrimage with a vegetarian meal at the monastery and a visit to Ngong Ping Village with its shopping and Walking with Buddha museum, and then make your return trip via cable car offering more great views.
Zipping over to Macau: Macau is just an hour away by jetfoil and offers a fascinating blend of Chinese and Mediterranean lifestyles, evident in its spicy Macanese cuisine, colorful architecture, temples, churches, and handful of special-interest museums. It’s also famous for its Las Vegas – style casinos. Although you can “do” Macau in a day, I strongly urge you to spend at least a couple days here.
Expand Your Horizons at Hong Kong’s Museums: A Museum Pass allowing entry to seven major museums, covering everything from Chinese art and Hong Kong’s history to space, science, and cultural life in the New Territories, costs just HK$30. Or, go on Wednesday, when these same museums are absolutely free.
Explore Hong Kong’s Parks: Hong Kong’s parks are destinations in themselves, offering a wide range of free activities and attractions. Among the most unique are Kowloon Walled City Park; Kowloon Park, with free kung fu demonstrations and a small arts fair on Sundays; and Hong Kong Park, with a huge aviary and the Museum of Tea Ware. For descriptions of Hong Kong’s many parks.
Meet the People: Learn about pearls, jade, feng shui (geomancy), Cantonese opera, Chinese tea, and other cultural traditions on free, 1-hour tours and lectures given by local experts. Inexpensive harbor cruises are also available aboard an authentic junk. To learn more about the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s “Meet the People” program, stop by an HKTB Visitor Information & Services Centre for the Cultural Kaleidoscope brochure, which outlines the current free offerings.
Get Up Early to Watch Tai Chi: Before breakfast, head to one of Hong Kong’s many parks to watch people going through the slow, graceful motions of tai chi. For the best viewing, go to Kowloon Park, Hong Kong Park, Victoria Park, or the Zoological and Botanical Gardens. You can even participate in free practice sessions, held four mornings a week on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront promenade and once a week in Admiralty.
Explore the Western District: Produce, bolts of cloth, live snakes, ginseng, dried seafood, Chinese herbs and medicines, an historic temple, a museum dedicated to Chinese and Western medicine, and antiques and collectibles are just some of the things you’ll see while strolling through one of Hong Kong’s most fascinating neighborhoods.
Stroll Tsim Sha Tsui’s Waterfront: A pedestrian promenade stretches from the Star Ferry eastward along the Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui East waterfront, providing close-up views of the harbor and Hong Kong Island with its skyscrapers. After dark, this is a wonderful romantic stroll, with the lights of Hong Kong Island shimmering across the water. A bonus: Every evening at 8pm, Hong Kong puts on a spectacular laserand-light show projected from skyscrapers on both sides of the harbor. The best place to see this colorful site? On the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.
Get Cultured at the Hong Kong Cultural Center: Free family shows on Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, which may feature Chinese dance, a magic show, or music, and Thursday Happy Hour from 6 to 7pm spotlighting local groups performing Chinese classical music, puppetry, and other acts, are great entertainment at a price that can’t be beat.
Imbibe at Happy Hour at a British Pub: To save money engaged in our favorite sport, end a busy day of sightseeing and shopping by rubbing elbows with Hong Kong’s working population as they take advantage of happy-hour prices in British pubs throughout the city. Most pubs and bars offer a happy hour that can stretch on for hours, with two drinks for the price of one or drinks at reduced prices.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) has opened a new HKTB Visitor Information & Services Center, in a vintage tram car on Victoria Peak, open daily 9am to 9pm.
Oasis Hong Kong, a fledgling low-fare, long-haul airline, flew its last flight in 2008. Hong Kong International Airport, one of the most user-friendly airports in the world, is even more welcoming now that it offers free Wi-Fi from anywhere in the airport. Travelers to U.S. destinations will find check-in easier: You can check in for most airlines at two satellite train stations, Hong Kong Station and Kowloon Station.
Where to stay
Getting around Hong Kong has gotten simultaneously more difficult and easier. Hover ferry service between Tsim Sha Tsui East and Central is no longer available, making the trip between the two a longer haul. On the other hand, the absorption of the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) into the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) subway system now means slightly cheaper fares and eliminates having to buy a new ticket when making transfers.
The Ritz-Carlton has closed in Central to make way for an office building, but it will resurface in 2010 on the other side of the harbor, next to Kowloon Station at the top of a 108-story building. Meanwhile, the hottest trend in the Hong Kong hotel scene is the boutique hotel.
Where to dine
With so many new restaurants popping up, I’m afraid I’ll have a coronary just trying to eat at them all. Creating the biggest buzz are Azure, on the 29th floor of Hotel LKF (see above), with great views and a dramatic setting; Pearl on the Peak, Peak Tower, Victoria Peak, with even better views and offering high-dollar Australian cuisine; Zuma, a swanky Japanese restaurant in the upscale Landmark shopping center, Central; and Watermark, with a location right above the Central Ferry Piers, unobstructed harbor views, and varied Continental cuisine along with a lunch buffet.
Peak Tower, Victoria Peak, now charges for the privilege Hong Kong from its rooftop Sky Terrace observation deck, charging HK$20, half-price for seniors and children. HKTB’s free Saturday tai chi lessons, previously held at Sky Terrace, have been moved to Harcourt Garden in Admiralty.
New museums in Hong Kong include the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum, 7 Castle Rd., and the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre, Kowloon Park, Tsim Sha Tsui, which highlights past, present, and future preservation efforts of historic buildings throughout Hong Kong.
Travelers flying in or out of Hong Kong International Airport may want to extend their stay at the airport with a round of golf at the SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course, a nine-hole course open to airport employees, passengers within 7 days of their arrival or departure dates, and members of frequent-flier programs.
The Ping Shan Heritage Trail, a great walk in the New Territories, just keeps getting better. The Old Ping Shan Police Station, built in 1899, has been given a second life as the trail’s visitor center, with displays that introduce the customs and history of the Tang clan that settled the area.
What isn’t new in Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia? Several foreign-owned casino/hotel properties have opened recently, including MGM Grand, Avenida Dr. Sun Yat-sen, with an impressive glass-covered conservatory modeled after a Portuguese square; Wynn Macau, Rua Cidade de Sintra, boasting an upscale shopping center filled with designer wear; and Crown Towers, Avenida de Kwong Tung, Macau’s classiest casino/hotel to date, with prices to match. But the biggest changes taking place in Macau are on Cotai, a strip of reclaimed land between Taipa and Coloane and even boasting its own ferry service from Hong Kong. It’s here you’ll find the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel, Estrada da Baia de N. Senhora da Esperanca, Macau’s biggest development and boasting the world’s largest casino and second-largest building.
Naturally, Macau’s new hotels also offer more choices in dining and entertainment. These include French restaurant Aux Beaux Arts, with terrace seating in the MGM Grand’s conservatory; Il Teatro in Wynn Macau, offering South Italian fare with views of a dancing fountain; Japanese restaurant Roka and Cirque du Soleil in the Venetian Macao-Hotel-Resort; and Ying in Crown Towers, serving traditional and modern interpretations of Cantonese cuisine along with views of the Macau skyline.