Archive for the ‘Hong Kong China Travel’ Category
It may be only 7 miles (11 km) directly south of Hong Kong’s busy Central district, but Cape D’Aguilar feels like another world. The wild coast-line has wave-lashed rock formations and a marine life so rich that researchers have discovered 20 species “new to science” in these waters.
Hoi Ha Wan
The long inlets and sheltered coves of this 260 hectare marine park in northern Sai Kung are made for snorkelling. Stony coral and reef fish galore.
Mai Po Marsh
Declared a Ramsar site (that is, a wetland of international importance) in 1995, Mai Po is one of China’s most important bird sanctuaries, with hundreds of resident and migra-tory species recorded, including many endangered ones. Other wildlife includes otters, civet cats, bats and numerous amphibians.
The pool is a popular picnic spot. Weekends are best avoided, but visit midweek and, with luck, you will have this glorious, wooded course of rockpools and cascades all to yourself.
Pat Sin Range
Hong Kong’s countryside achieves a quiet grandeur among the empty valleys and sublime uplands of Pat Sin (“eight spirits”). Peaks range up to 639 m (2,095 ft), and the views are humbling.
The Dragon’s Back
This undulating ridge snakes down Hong Kong Island’s south-east corner, with plunging slopes, poetic sea views and (past Pottinger’s Gap) deep wooded valleys and beaches.
Take these steep steps up the rock from Three Fathom’s Cove, and enter an expanse of remote uplands and boulder-strewn paths, leading, in the north, to Mount Hallowes. There are exquisite views of the Tolo Channel.
Sha Lo Tung
This hidden valley is probably the closest Hong Kong comes to stereotypical ideas of classical Chinese landscape, with its old paddy fields, deserted villages, flowing streams and ancient woods. Magical.
Ma On Shan
The plateaus and grassy slopes of the 702-m ((2,302-ft) high Ma On Shan (“Saddle Mountain”) allow wide-screen views of mountainous country, without the insidious intrusion of city skyline in the distance. The effect is truly majestic.
Tai Long Wan
On the Sai Kung Peninsula, survive the knuckle-whitening ascent of Sharp Peak (all loose rocks and narrow paths), and the land plunges down to your well-earned reward: the sparkling waves and white sand of Hong Kong’s finest beach, Tai Long Wan.
Sir Norman Foster’s striking, Bladerunner-esque edifice cost a whopping HK$5.2bn, making it the world’s priciest pile when it opened in 1985. The headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation are reputed to have some of the best feng shui around – the building sits on a rare confluence of five “dragon lines” and enjoys unimpeded harbour views. The soaring atrium feels like a cathedral, which might explain why on Sundays the ground level is taken over by chattering Filipina maids.
Bank of China
This one is also famous in feng shui circles, but more for dishing it out than possessing it – the glass-skinned tower shoots bad vibes at the old Government House and other entities. Its knife-like edges were the inspiration of American-Chinese master architect I. M. Pei. The 70-storey, 368-m (1,207-ft) stack of prisms opened in 1990. Its viewing platform is the natural place to go for a sweep-ing city perspective.
Tsing Ma Bridge
The suspension bridge stre-tches from Tsing Yi Island to Lan-tau, a mile and a half (2.2 km) long. A striking sight, especially when lit up at night, the bridge carries the road and rail links to Chek Lap Kok airport. It opened in May 1997, having taken five years to build at a cost of HK$7.14 bn. Take the MTR to Tsing Yi or catch an airport bus (but not the airport train) to view it. There’s also a viewing platform at Ting Kau.
Two IFC Tower
Completed in 2003, the streamlined Two International Finance Centre Tower soars above Victoria Harbour. At 420 m (1,378 ft), it is Hong Kong’s tallest building and for now the sixthtallest in the world, soon to be overtaken by Union Square Phase 7. The shopping mall at its base is one of the biggest on the island.
Hong Kong International Airport
Sir Norman Foster strikes again. Landing isn’t quite the thrill ride it was at the old airport, but the new passenger terminal, which opened in July 1998, is impressive. The airport is constructed on a specially flattened island – Chek Lap Kok.
These knobbly megaliths look like they have koalas cling-ing to the sides – a reflection of the original antipodean owner, jailbird Alan Bond.
The one with the pretty col-ours that keep changing all night – fantastic, unless you live next door. One of tycoon Li Ka-shing’s triumphs.
Cheung Kong Centre
Big, boxy and glassy, another one of Li’s babies. He lives on the top of this one. Note how it’s built perfectly parallel to the adjoining Bank of China for optimal feng shui.
Confusingly, this is in Wan Chai, not Central. At 78 storeys, it is two less than The Centre, but at 374 m (1,227 ft), it’s taller. It’s also the world’s tallest reinforced concrete building.
HK Convention and Exhibition Centre
Site of the official Handover ceremony in 1997, the Centre sprawls over a huge area over the harbour and was designed to resemble a bird in flight.
The world’s longest covered escalator system is a sight unto itself.
Some 211,000 people ride the system daily, bypassing the Mid-Levels’traffic snarls.
The escalator begins oppo-site this agreeably raucous fruit and vegetable market.
(“Below Hollywood Road”) The start of the journey takes you through the heart of this hip quarter.
(“South of Hollywood Road”). Alight at the first stop and walk a block uphill for trendy bars and eateries.
Home to antique shops, galleries, nightclubs, bars and the historic Man Mo Temple.
Several en route, many specializing in the bright new wave of Chinese art.
So named because a 19th- century signwriter wrote “Alexander” from right to left, in the Chinese manner. Uncorrected to this day.
Jamia Masjid Mosque
Also known as the Shelly Street Mosque, built in 1915. One of three mosques cater-ing to 70,000 Muslims.
Where SoHo peters out, and the Mid-Levels begins amid forests of upscale apartment blocks.
The series of escalators in the steep Mid-Levels district of northwest Hong Kong Island is designed for commuters, but most appreciated by sightseers who can rest their legs and enjoy the fascinating sights (opposite). Take a stately (and free) ascent past busy street scenes, tradi-tional shops and apartment windows.
Hong Kong’s trams date back to 1904, making this one of the oldest continuously used tram systems in existence. They are still one of the best ways of exploring the Hong Kong Island shoreline. Trainspotter’s trivia: it’s also the only double-decker tram system in the whole world.
The Peak Tram
Since 1888, this funicular railway has made the jaw-dropping ascent of Victoria Peak, and remains a must for visitors. Under the unwritten rules of colonial times, certain seats were reserved for high officials; now, seating is an amiable free-for-all.
Airport Express Link
Should your attention span wane on the fleeting 22-minute ride from the airport to Central, the AEL offers personal TVs in the back of every seat. Bright, shiny and a joy to use.
Hong Kong’s underground railway is a world leader, hand-ling three million people a day with rapid and robotic efficiency. Signs are in both English and Chinese, delays are almost unheard of, and with fares starting from the price of a cup of coffee, a trip around the city is surprisingly affordable, too.
The fabulous Star Ferry connects Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. Pay half the price of a cup of coffee for a first-class view of one of the world’s most remarkable harbours and skylines. Other ferries connect Hong Kong to the outlying islands and parts of the New Territories
There are just seven rickshaws left in all Hong Kong, their elderly drivers earning a living by charging tourists for photos. Don’t ask for a ride, unless you want richly-deserved abuse from passers-by: these old guys can’t make their way halfway down the road without collapsing in an exhausted heap.
Hong Kong cabbies are as psychotic as big city cabbies everywhere. Their rudeness is legendary, but you probably would be too if you had to deal with Hong Kong traffic all day, every day. Fortunately, tighter policing means that overcharging is now a rare occurrence.
On a per capita basis, Hong Kong probably has more Mercedes and Rolls Royces than anywhere else in the world. Some 15 of the latter are owned by the Peninsula Hotel alone – including a Phantom II dating from 1934.
Hong Kong’s double-decker buses are a British legacy, although these mostly come air-conditioned and with onboard TVs blaring ceaseless advertising. The low cost of using them may help you overcome this irritant.
Chinese New Year
Hong Kong’s most celebrated festival is a riot of neon and noise. Skyscrapers on both sides of the harbour are lit up to varying deg-rees depending on the vicissitudes of the economy, fireworks explode over the harbour, shops shut down and doormen suddenly turn nice, hoping for a handout of lai see (lucky money).
Spring Lantern (Yuen Siu) FestivalAlso known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, this festival marks the end of the traditional Lunar New Year celebrations.
Tin Hau Festival
This is the big one if you make your living from the sea. Fishermen make floral paper offerings to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea, hoping for fine wea-ther and full nets. (Her views on overfishing and dragnetting aren’t clear.) Try the temples at Stanley, Joss House Bay or Tin Hau Temple Road.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival
Talk about a bunfight. Young men used to scale 8-m (26-ft) towers covered in buns until in the 1970s they started falling off and the practice was banned. It was revived in a tamer form in2005.
Also known as the grave-sweeping festival, ching ming literally means “clear and bright”. Chinese families visit the graves of their ancestors to burn “Hell money”, which resembles Monop-oly money.
Dragon Boat (Tuen Ng) Festival
Drums thunder and paddles churn the less-than-pristine waters of Hong Kong as garish craft vie for top honours. The festival commemorates Qu Yuan, a 3th century poet statesman who drowned himself to protest against corrupt rulers.
Hungry Ghost (Yue Laan) Festival
From the 14th day of the seventh moon, Chinese believe the gates of hell are thrown open and the undead run riot on earth for a month. Lots more “Hell money” goes up in smoke, as do various hillsides. Not a good time for hiking.
One of the most picturesque of Hong Kong’s festivals. Families brave the most appalling traffic jams to venture out into the country parks to burn candles and feast on yolk-centred moon-cakes. Unfortunately, the intricate paper lanterns have increasingly been supplanted by glowing, blow-up Hello Kitty, Doraemon and Pokémon dolls.
Chung Yeung Festival
Put on your hiking boots. This festival commemorates a Han Dynasty scholar who took his family up a hill and came back to find the rest of his village murdered.
Not a traditional Chinese festival, of course, but Hong Kongers have wholeheartedly embraced the more commercial aspects of Christmas.
Comes alive at night. Hundreds of stalls are jam-packed by 9pm, offering all manner of goods. It used to be known as Men’s Street, and many stalls still stock less-than-fashionable attire. Venture past the market and you’ll stumble onto a lamplit coterie of fortune-tellers and possibly a Chinese Opera recital.
The Western Market (in the northwest of Hong Kong Island) is situated in a gorgeous old Edwardian building, but the pickings are slim. Best bet is the excellent selection of antique and second-hand watches on the ground floor. Also a good range of fabric shops, although bargains are scarce. In a former life it housed a meat and vegetable market.
No designer labels – unless they’re fake. What you’ll find here is inexpensive women’s clothing from lingerie to shoes. There’s a decent selection of jeans, cheap food and knick-knacks galore.
Jardine’s Bazaar and Jardine’s Crescent
An open-air market area in the heart of Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts. All sorts of goodies here, from run-of-the-mill fashion shops to traditional barbers and Chinese medicine sellers. Sample a glass of fresh soy bean milk.
No, there are no more cats here than anywhere else in Hong Kong. Cat Street refers instead to the Chinese slang for odds and ends. It and nearby Hollywood Road are chock full of antique and curio shops. This is the place for silk carpets, elegant Chinese furniture, Ming dynasty ceramic horsemen.
As you might suppose, jade sellers abound – more than 450 of them at last count. Don’t attempt to buy the top-grade stuff unless you’re an expert and know what you are doing. But there are plenty of cheaper pieces to be found.
Full of tourists of the badge-sporting, flag-following variety. If you’re not claustrophobic, join the hordes thronging the narrow lanes to gorge on tacky rubbish.
More than 70 stalls showcasing all manner of songbirds and (mostly legal) exotica, bounded by elegant courtyards, full of old men with white singlets rolled up to bare their bellies (one of Hong Kong’s odder fashion statements). A flower market is also nearby.
Popular spot for locals, as a fishtank in the right spot is thought to ward off bad luck. Hook a bargain on underwater furniture with an oriental flavour.
This one is worth a peek if you happen to be in Central but hardly worth a special visit. Lots of blood and guts, especially for early birds.
The local patois, which freely uses sinicized English words like sahmunjee (sand-wich), bahsee (bus), lumbah (number) and kayleem (cream).
Many borrowings, including praya (waterfront road), joss (a corruption of deus, or god) and amah (maid).
Several words, including shroff (cashier), nullah (channel or watercourse) and tiffin (lunch).
Mo Lei Tau
The impenetrable slang used by young Cantonese. Based on surreal and seem-ingly nonsensical phrasing.
All-purpose slang term meaning “cool”, “excellent”. (As used in the Hollywood film Wayne’s World.)
“Yau Mehr Liu?”
Translates roughly as “What’s your talent?” but used as a streetwise greeting; a bit like “what’s up?” or “wassup?”
Hong Kong English for warehouse or storage facility; a contraction of “go put your load down”.
Hong Kong police slang for “white trash”
The universal exclamation of disappointment, surprise or regret.
Prefix added to names when denoting affection, as in “Ah-Timothy”, “Ah-Belinda”.
With a history of revolution, migration, incessant trading, the witty and streetwise Cantonese are the New Yorkers of China, and make up the majority of Hong Kong’s population. There are also large communities of Shanghainese, Hakka (Kejia) and Chiu Chow (Chaozhou) people.
A large British population remains, including a small but influential community of native-born. Influences are everywhere, from street names (“Lambeth Walk”, “Rutland Quadrant”) to school blazers.
The traditional role of this community of mixed European and Asian descent – as cultural and commercial brokers between East and West – remains undim-inished. If anyone can claim to truly embody Hong Kong’s intriguing duality, it is this young, wealthy and internationally-minded community.
In the Pearl River Delta since the arrival of traders in the 16th century, the Portuguese have inter-married extensively with the Cantonese. Aside from a clutch of surnames (da Silva, Sequeira, Remedios), a lasting influence has been the fostering of an addiction to egg tarts and pastries.
The history of Hong Kong’s substantial Indian population (there are Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs) dates from the arrival of the British in 1841. Like the Eurasians, young Indians have rejected purely Western or Asian notions of identity, pioneering instead a synthesis of both.
Hong Kong has one of the oldest Jewish communities in east Asia, producing patrician business dynasties (the Sassoons, the Kadoories) and one of the most colourful governors (Sir Matthew Nathan, 1903–1906).
Hong Kong’s White Russians were once numerous, and you still find borsch on the menu of every takeaway and coffee shop.
The surging growth in British-, American- and Canadian-born Chinese has been a characteristic of the last two decades, as the well-educated children of emigrants return in search of roots and white-collar work.
Most members of the largest ethnic minority stoically perform the low-paid occupations that Hong Kongers shun, working as domestic servants, drivers, wait-ing staff and bar room musicians, and remitting most of their income back home to the Philippines. Filipinas promenade in their thousands every Sunday at Statue Square.
Working mostly in business and the media, the size of this community is reflected in the fact that it boasts the largest Australian Chamber of Commerce outside of Australia, and one of only two Australian International Schools in the world.
Spend a Night at the Opera
Cantonese opera might sound like discordant screeching to the untrained ear, but make no mistake, this is a fine and ancient art. It combines song, mime, dancing, martial arts and fantastic costumes and make-up and can go on for six hours or more. Call the HKTB for details of performances.
Ride on a Junk
We’ve all seen that iconic image of the junk, blood-red bat-wing sails unfurled as the sun sets over Victoria Harbour. Unfortunately, it’s usually the same boat. The Duk Ling is one of the few masted sailing junks left.
Feast on Dim Sum
Dim sum is commonly translated as “touch the heart”, although in some establishments it may also touch your wallet. The small steamed snacks in bamboo baskets are delivered by grumpy old ladies with trolleys.
Visit a Market
Hong Kong’s wet markets can bring on instant culture shock for those tourists who are more used to the orderly atmosphere of supermarkets. Tiptoe through rivers of blood, past gizzards and buzz-ing flies as hawkers yell and housewives bargain.
Go for a Traditional Tonic
For a taste of the real China, try a tonic restaurant. Chefs whip up dishes with all sorts of herbs and spices, in accordance with the principles of “heating” or “cooling” foods. A tonic lunch at the Treasure Inn Seafood Restaurant includes fried snowfrog and bamboo fungi.
Try Foot Reflexology
Hands seek out pressure points linked to vital organs. The procedure is painful, and you might be embarrassed about your feet, but you will feel so good when they stop. Reflexologists abound in Happy Valley. Try On Wo Tong.
Aim for Everything Zen
For a modern take on ancient China, check out the Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon. This gorgeous replica of a seven-hall Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) complex took 10 years to build, using traditional techniques and materials. Bliss out as stubble-headed nuns chant to the Sakyamuni Buddha.
Experience Unbelievable Gall
She Wong Lam in the northeast of Hong Kong Island is the place to sup on snake wine, a traditional winter tonic. The speciality is a fiery brew containing the gall bladders of five snakes.
Watch a Lion Dance
Lions are thought to bring luck, which explains why the opening of a new building often features a troupe of wiry youths prancing about beneath a stylised lion’s head. Common around Chinese New Year.
Practise Tai Chi
Turn up at the clock tower near the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui at 8am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and you can enjoy an hour’s free instruction in this gentlest of martial arts.
Check into the Peninsula for a stress-busting retreat at th brand new ESPA spa.
Rubbed the Right Way
Go for a deep-tissue Chinese massage and get the blood circulating.
Breath of Fresh Air
Enjoy the buzz at Oxyvital’s Central “oxygen bar”.
In a Lather
A Shanghai-style shave at the Mandarin Oriental will leave your face feeling like a baby’s bottom.
Love Potion No. 9
Boost your staying power with a tonic drink from one of the many kerbside Chinese medicine shops.
Geomancing the Stone
Make sure your house and garden are in tune with the elements with a private feng shui consultation.
Pins and Needles
Loosen up with an acupuncture session.
Splash out at the Grand Hyatt’s 11th-floor spa with outdoor pool.
Put Your Feet Up
Fans rave about the traditional Shanghai pedicure at the Mandarin Oriental.
The Doctor Is In
Try some alternative medicine from a traditional Chinese doctor.
Although only a few miles from urban Hong Kong, the re-mote, pristine beaches on the eastern edge of the rugged Sai Kung Peninsula seem like another country. There is no rail link and few roads, so you will have to make an early start, taking a bus to Sai Kung town, another bus to Pak Tam Au, then walk the hilly 4-mile footpath to the beach. The reward for your effort will be glorious surf, delightful hidden pools and shaded cafes.
There are three excellent beaches at Tai Long Wan. Tai Wan is the most remote and unspoiled; the smallest beach, Ham Tin, has a good café and camping area; Tai Long Sai Wan is the busiest.
Natural Swimming Pools
A lovely series of waterfalls and natural swimming pools is the area’s best-kept secret. Reach them from the path running alongside the small river at the northwestern end of Tai Long Sai Wan beach.
Noodles, fried rice and hot and cold drinks are available from the modest, reasonably priced cafés on Tai Long Sai Wan and the Hoi Fung cafe at Ham Tin.
Ham Tin to Tai Long Path
Take the steep half-mile path between Ham Tin and Tai Long Sai Wan for lovely views down onto Ham Tin, Tai Wan and the mountains behind.
Tai Wan usually has reasonably good surf. Gentle body-boarding should always be possible, and you may even be able to surf properly when storms raise bigger swells.
Most privately hired junks drop anchor at Tai Long Sai Wan, and their passengers head to the beach in smaller craft, making this the busiest of the three beaches.
Tai Long village may have been first settled in prehistoric times. It was a thriving Hakka fishing village until the 1950s, when most people migrated to the city or abroad. A few elderly residents remain.
The area just east of Ham Tin village is the best place for overnight campers, with flat ground, public toilets and a stream for fresh water. There are no hotels.
The prominent 468-m summit of Sharp Peak is clearly visible from Ham Tin and Tai Wan. The arduous climb up its very steep slopes rewards with spectacular views over the peninsula.
Ham Tin Bridge
If you want to keep your feet dry, the only way onto the beach from Ham Tin village is via a rickety bridge. Marvel at the makeshift engineering from nailed-together driftwood and offcuts.
Hong Kong’s newest museum, on the outskirts of Sha Tin in the New Territories, is by far its best (although the revamped History Museum in Kowloon is also worth a visit). Opened in 2000, the Heritage Museum covers the culture, arts and natural history of Hong Kong and the New Territories. Exciting audio-visual exhibits and a good interactive section for children make for a fun day out.
Architecture and Design
The Heritage Museum building is based on the traditional Chinese si he yuan style, built around a courtyard. The style is still visible in the walled villages of the New Territories
For a brief overview of the museum, visit the Orientation Theatre on the ground floor opposite the ticket office. A short film in English and Cantonese explains the exhibits and the main aims of the museum.
Children’s Discovery Gallery
The brightly colored gallery is a vibrant, fun way to introduce children to local nature and archaeology, and the history of toys. Interactive exhibits and the child-size 3-D models are very popular with young children.
Cantonese Opera Hall
Cantonese opera is an obscure subject. However, the sumptuous costumes, intricate stage sets and snatches of song from the elaborate operas of Guangdong and Guanxi go some way to illustrating the attraction.
Five halls on the first and second floors house temporary exhibitions focusing on subjects varying from popular culture, contemporary art and social issues in Hong Kong, to traditional Chinese art and history.
Chao Shaoan Gallery
The delicate ink on scroll paintings of artist and one-time Hong Kong resident Chao Shaoan are known far beyond China. There are dozens of fine examples in the gallery
For fresh air and interesting surroundings, head to the shaded courtyard in the centre of the complex.
New Territories Culture
Large mock-ups of old maritime and village scenes recreate the old days. The growth of the new towns, such as Sha Tin, are also covered.
New Territories History
The rich fauna and flora of the region are exhibited along with 6000-year-old artifacts from the early days of human habitation in Hong Kong.
TT Tsui Gallery
The works of art dating from Neolithic times to the 20th century include porcelain, bronze, jade and stone artifacts, furniture, laquerware and Tibetan religious statues.
Beneath the bleaching glare of a thousand light bulbs, tourists and locals alike pick their way among the stalls crowding the lanes of Yau Ma Tei’s Temple Street. The overwhelming array of cheap goods includes clothes, shoes, accessories, CDs, and a generous helping. Prices here may be a bit higher than in Shenzhen, just over some of Hong Kong’s less well-known markets, but Temple Street is unbeatable for atmosphere.
A dozen fortune tellers operate around the junction of Temple and Market streets. Most are face and palm readers. The caged white finches are trained to pick a for-tune card from the pack in return for some seeds.
Canto Opera Street Performers
On some evenings musicians and singers perform popular Cantonese Opera numbers next door to the fortune tellers.
Dai Pai Dong
Tighter health regulations have made dai pai dong food stalls a rare sight, but they are alive and well at Temple Street, selling a variety of Chinese snacks, savoury pancakes, fishballs, seafood kebabs and meat offerings.
Reclamation St Canteens
If you haven’t had your fill from the dai pai dong, try the cheap noodles and rice-based food at the covered stalls on Reclamation Street.
It’s likely to be a decent timekeeper but with no guarantees. The local makes and Western are usually good value for money. One stall offers genuine, secondhand watches.
Good buys include cheap t-shirts, elaborate silks, beaded tops and cotton dresses. Have a look at the stall on the corner of Kansu St. Further down, tailored trousers can be ordered with a four-day turnaround.
Best Leather Goods
Leather is not really Temple Street’s strong point. But belts are cheap, and there are plenty of leather handbags and shoulder bags.
From the very cheap flip flops to the reasonable suede or leather shoes, bargain footwear is available almost everywhere on Temple Street, although the variety is not huge and the styles not that elegant. Don’t forget to check the shops behind the stalls.
Cheap sunglasses are easy to find in the market. Embroidered and beaded handbags and shoulder bags are also worth looking out for.
Mao memorabilia, old posters, coins, and jade are found on Public Square Street. Temple Street’s northern extremity is rich plastic cartoon merchandise, including Hello Kitty clocks, Afro Ken and Pokemon.
Originally a sleepy fishing haven, Stanley was the largest settlement on Hong Kong Island before the British moved in. The modern town, hugging the southern coast, still makes a peaceful, pleasant escape from the bustle of the city. Traffic is minimal, and the pace of life relaxed, with plenty of excellent places to eat, good beaches and a large market to search for clothes, silks and souvenirs. Stanley is also the place to glimpse old Hong Kong and an older Chinese tradition seen at the Tin Hau Temple.
Reasonably priced clothes, shoes and accessories as well as plenty of tourist tat are to be found among Stanley’s pleasant, ramshackle market stalls. Although it’s not the cheapest or best market in Hong Kong, you may as well potter among the hundred or so stalls before heading to a café or one of the seafront eateries.
Old Police Station
The handsome building was built in 1859 and is Hong Kong’s oldest surviving police station building. Today it houses a restaurant.
The pretty waterfront makes a pleasant promenade between the market area and Murray House. The harbor was once home to a busy fleet of junks and fishing boats, but is now empty.
This fine stretch of sand is perfect for a dip and a paddle. It’s the venue for the fiercely contested dragon boat races in June when the beach fills with competitors and revellers.
Tin Hau Temple
Lined with the grimacing statues of guards to the sea goddess Tin Hau, the gloomy interior of this temple is one of the most evocative in Hong Kong. It’s also one of the oldest Tin Hau temples in the region, dating back to 1767.
The old British army barracks at the end of the peninsula.
St Stephen’s Beach
Another good stretch of sand, St Stephen’s is also the place for sailing and canoeing. The small pier is the departure point for the Sunday boat bound for the remote island of Po Toi.
Pubs and Restaurants
One of Stanley’s best attractions is its excellent range of restaurants and bars. A host of eateries, from Italian to Vietnamese, are lined along Stanley Main Road, facing the sea, many with out-door seating. Murray House also contains good restaurants.
One of Hong Kong’s best-loved institutions, the Star Ferries have plied between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island since 1888. The portly green and white 1950s and 60s relics are still used by commuters despite the advent of rail and road tunnels beneath the harbor. A ferry ride offers a thrilling perspective on the towering skyscrapers and the jungle-clad hills of Hong Kong Island. Take an evening voyage for the harbor’s neon spectacle, especially the elaborate light displays at Christmas.
In the early days, four coal-fired boats went back and forth between Hong Kong and Kowloon. Today 12 diesel-powered vessels operate, each named after a particular star (with the night-time glare and pollution, they may be the only stars you’re likely to see from the harbor).
Standing next to the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry, the landmark clock tower is the last remnant of the old Kowloon railway terminus. This was the poetic final stop for trains from the mainland, including the Orient Express from London. The terminus has since moved east to prosaic Hung Hom.
Star Ferry Crew
Many Star Ferry crew members still sport old-fashioned sailor-style uniforms, making popular subjects for camera-toting visitors. Watch out, too, for the pier crewmen catching the mooring rope with a long billhook.
Star Ferry Routes
The Star Ferries run four routes: between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central; Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai; Central and Hung Hom; and Hung Hom and Wanchai.
As you cross Victoria Harbor, on the far left are the glass and flowing lines of the Convention Centre in Wanchai and above it the 373m tower of Central Plaza. Further left are the Bank of China’s striking zigzags, and the struts and spars of the HSBC building. The new kid on the block is Two International Finance Centre, the island’s tallest skyscraper, towering a colossal 420 m above Star Ferry Pier.
Victoria harbor is the busiest stretch of water in Hong Kong, teeming with activity. Keep your eyes peeled at the weekend for the last remaining batwing sailing be found in this part of China.
At HK$1.7 to ride on the lower deck and HK$2.2 to ride the top deck, the Star Ferry is Hong Kong’s best sightseeing bargain.
The lower and upper decks used to be first and second class compartments. Today the extra cents buy access to the air-conditioning section during the hottest months, and afford a better view of the city and refuge from sea spray on choppy days.
Just north of the Tsim Sha Tsui terminal, Hong Kong’s cruise ships dock, including, on occasion, the QE2. Some US warships also dock here during port calls.
As you approach Kowloon with Hong Kong Island behind you, you’ll see the Arts and Cultural Centre, closest to the shore. Behind it rises the grand extension of the Peninsula Hotel and the tapering tower at No. 1 Peking Rd. The craggy hills of the New Territories loom in the background.
Feel the earth move beneath thundering hooves as you cheer the finishers home in the ultimate Hong Kong night out. Races have been held at Happy Valley – the widest stretch of flat land on Hong Kong Island, originally a swamp – since 1846. Today the action takes place beneath twinkling high-rises making for one of the most atmospheric horseracing tracks in the world.
Wednesday Night Races
The most exciting scheduled races are fortnightly on Wednesday evenings. For the full atmosphere, jump on a Happy Valley-bound tram and bone up on the form in the Wednesday Racing Post on the way. The first race is usually at 7:30pm.
The Big Screen
The huge screen facing the stand carries all the statistics race goers need from the results of the last race to odds on the upcoming one. There are also live race pictures or replays, ensuring no one misses any of the action.
The small and neat museum at Happy Valley details Hong Kong’s racing history along with a selection of Chinese art celebrating the horse. Learn the story of the old trade in prized Mongolian and Chinese ponies. Don’t aim to combine it with an evening at the races, however. It is closed during meetings.
View from Moon Koon
For a fantastic track-side view while you eat, head to the Moon Koon Restaurant. Racing and dining packages are available.
Come Horseracing Tour
Splendid Tours and Grey Line both run the Come Horseracing Tour during scheduled race meetings on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tours include entry to the Members’ Enclosure, welcome drink, buffet meal and guide service.
Silver Lining Skeleton
Silver Lining, Hong Kong’s most famous horse, was the first to win more than HK$1m. The equine skeleton takes pride of place in a glass cabinet at the Racing Museum.
Happy Valley has a 55,000 capacity but is so popular that it sometimes sells out before the day. Stand in the open next to the track where you’ll get the full effect of the roar from the stands and a good view of the finishing line.
Types of Bet
Different ways to bet include simply guessing the winner; a place; a quinella; and a quinella place (predicting any two of the first three horses in any order).
Where to Bet
Bets are placed at the counters at the back of each floor of the main stand. Pick up the right betting slips next to the counters, fill them in and take them to the counter with your stake money. If you win, wait for a few minutes after the race, then go to the same counter to collect your winnings.
Jockey Club Booths
For help and advice on placing bets go to the friendly, helpful Jockey Club officials at the booths between the main entrance and the racetrack. The Jockey Club is the only organization allowed to take bets in Hong Kong. Jockey Club profits go to local charities.
With Hong Kong’s most spectacular views, cooler climes and quiet wooded walks, it’s no wonder Victoria Peak is so popular with tourists and the super rich who occupy the exclusive properties clinging to its high slopes. The Peak Tram takes under 10 minutes to reach Victoria Gap, pinning you to your seat as it’s hauled up the sheer slope at the end of a single cable.
The Peak Tram empties into this mall, revamped in 2005, containing shops, cafes, restaurants and viewing gallery. The refreshment and tourist trinkets inside don’t inspire, but children may enjoy the fantastical motion simulator Peak Explorer ride or Madame Tussaud’s waxworks.
Although the imposing Peak Tower mall is hardly sensitive to its grand setting there is a good range of places to eat and drink inside its Galleria, with great views down onto city and harbor, and across to Lamma Island.
The Peak Lookout
The new incarnation of this much-loved, up-market drinking and dining favorite retains a lovely garden terrace, great food and friendly ambience.
Barker and Plantation Roads
These usually quiet roads are worth wandering for a peep at some of the Peak’s pricier properties, including 23 Severn Road. Most have amazing harbor views. But dream on. You would have to be a millionaire just to afford a two-bedroom flat here.
Pok Fu Lam Country Park
For a gentle half-hour ramble, head down Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road, then catch a bus back into town.
Victoria Peak Garden
The steep struggle up Mount Austin Road or the longer route along the Governor’s Walk to these well-tended gardens is worth the effort. The viewing platform faces Lamma Island.
Old Peak Rd
The old footpath up to the Peak before the Peak Tram arrived is pleasant and shaded. But the traffic can be busy at the bottom of Peak Road so it’s best to detour onto Tregunter Path near the bottom.
View near Summit
The summit itself is fenced off and covered by telecom masts, but the views from the edges of Victoria Peak Garden are excellent.
Lugard and Harlech Roads
The effortless way to see most of the best views on offer from the Peak is on the shaded, well-paved, 2-mile circular walk along Lugard Road and Harlech Road. It also makes a terrific jogging track with a view.
Stand in Central district’s Statue Square and you’re right in the region’s financial, political, historical and social heart. Among the steel and glass of sleek skyscrapers surrounding the square are a few old remnants, including the handsome Neo-Classical Legislation Council Building where Hong Kong’s usually low-key. Shopping, a much more popular Hong Kong pursuit, goes on inside the swanky boutiques opposite.
Bank of China Tower
Looming over the HSBC building is the imposing 70-storey Bank of China Tower. It was designed by the renowned architect I M Pei. The tower is a dizzying 368 m high.
Two of Hong Kong’s most up market and, of course, pricey shopping malls – the busy Landmark Centre and the less busy Prince’s Building – sit next to Statue Square. Within these hallowed temples to conspicuous overspending are many of the city’s most exclusive and elegant boutiques, including the likes of Armani, Gucci and Prada.
Standing at the northern edge of Statue Square, the Cenotaphis a memorial to those who died in the two World Wars.
Despite the prime real-estate value on the site of what used to be the old pitch of the Hong Kong Cricket Club, the small but well-tended Chater Garden sprang up instead of a skyscraper. It’s free to enter and makes a good place to enjoy a cold drink and rest tired legs.
Court of Final Appeal
Behind the HSBC building, a hand-some 150-year-old redbrick building used to house a French Catholic mission and the old first Government House. Today it serves as one of Hong Kong’s courts of law.
The Legislative Council Building
One of Hong Kong’s last remaining old buildings, the elegant Neo-Classical Legislative Council building, which used to house the Supreme Court, now serves as Hong Kong’s parliament.
It’s hard to believe, but the Mandarin Oriental was once Hong Kong’s tallest building. Today its graceful exterior seems overwhelmed by the ceaseless traffic, but inside it’s still one of Hong Kong’s finest hotels.
Thomas Jackson Statue
Appropriately enough, one of Hong Kong’s few remaining statues, of a 19th-century banker, is in Statue Square.
HSBC Bank Headquarters
On its completion in 1985, Sir Norman Foster’s bold building was the most expensive ever built, costing more than HK$5bn. The edifice is said to have the strongest feng shui in Hong Kong. Rubbing the paws of the bank’s hand-some lions is said to bring good luck.
Sunday Filipino Fiesta
Hundreds of young Filipinos and Indonesians, mostly domestic workers enjoying their only day off, occupy almost every spare bit of public space in Central.
“A dream of Manhattan, arising from the South China Sea.” For succinctness, modern travel writer Pico Iyer describes Hong Kong. This is the hedonistic engine room of cultural fusion: East meets West in high style, and the results astonish and delight. Prepare to experience one of the most dramatic urban environments ever conceived.
Take the tram to the lofty heights of Victoria Peak for an amazing view of the city.
Hong Kong Island’s northeast is the region’s admin-istrative centre. old remnants and exciting modern architecture stand next to each other around Statue Square.
Happy Valley Races
Horseracing below the high-rises: Happy Valley is where Hong Kongers go to play.
Ignore the subterranean road and rail links between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The thrilling way to cross the water is on the Star Ferry.
An old fort steeped in old history and reminders of World War II, Stanley on the Southside of Hong Kong Island is a peaceful diversion from the frenetic city.
Temple Street Night Market
Kowloon is at its most atmospheric at night. Head up the peninsula to the narrow lanes of Yau Ma Tei for some serious haggling.
Near Sha Tin in the New Territories, Hong Kong’s best museum is a must. Splendid high-tech audio-visual displays cover the region’s rich cultural heritage and natural history.
Tai Long Wan Coastline
The remote, rugged Sai Kung Peninsula in the New Territories is the place to find Hong Kong’s finest beaches.
Cheung Chau Island
Of the many islands around Hong Kong, tiny Cheung Chau is arguably the loveliest, with traces of old China.
Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
In the middle of hilly Lantau Island, Po Lin Monastery is a major destination for devotees and tourists alike. The extraordinary seated Big Buddha image facing the monastery can be seen from miles away.
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.