Kong Travel Guide
Harbour seen from
Hong Kong Island looking towards Kowloon mainland.
Photo by Base64
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Why Travel in Hong
packed, scenically dazzling and historically fascinating, this tiny
but affluent ex-British colony is a kind of muggy mini-China experience,
with skyscrapers, colourful temples, old ladies performing t'ai chi,
great food, too many pedestrians chattering incomprehensibly, efficient
- notably the MTR (Mass Transit Railway. i.e. tube/metro/subway) - and often quaint transport systems, terrific harbour and island views
and some fine beaches - especially on the outlying islands.
Unfortunately sea water around here is generally very polluted so don't plan on swimming unless you are a tough and fortunate cookie.
can be inexpensive (if you choose with care), safe and offers fantastic short holiday experiences
though the heat, humidity, poor air quality and jostling throngs of humanity can get
tiresome after not too long.
Extract from 'Eat the Rich' by PJ O'Rourke:
The people of Hong Kong have been free to do what they wanted, and what they wanted was, apparently, to create a stewing pandemonium: crowded, striving, ugly, and the most fabulous city on earth. It is a metropolis of amazing mess, an apparent stranger to zoning, a tumbling fuddle of of streets too narrow and vendor choked to walk along, slashed through with avenues to busy to cross. It is a vertical city, rising 1,800ft from Central District to Victoria Peak in less than a mile; so vertical that escalators run in place of sidewalks and neighbourhoods are named by altitude...picture Wall Street on a Kilimanjaro slope, or when it rains, picture a downhill Venice.
Main tourist attractions
the sensational panorama from Victoria Peak
where both day and night time views are magnificently different. Don't
consider any other transport than the steep and groaning Peak Tram,
built in 1888.
The Peak suffers from tourist shop abuse but you can
escape that by taking a stroll around the Peak Circle Walk or having
dinner in Peak Lookout's garden.
in the Night light show:
Hong Kong's static night lights are mesmerising (as pictured above)
but at 8pm the island's flashiest buildings put on a stunning, co-ordinated
Find a glass-wall bar or board a harbour junk cruise for
an eye-battering spectacle which is better viewed from the Kowloon (mainland) side.
Try Felix, the Philippe Starck-designed, double-height cocktail bar on the 28th floor of the Peninsula Hotel for awesome views in a magical environment.
the Star Ferry
from Kowloon to the Island or vice-versa. Another traditional cheap
and cheerful Hong Kong transport institution the ferry offers terrific
fish-eye views of the city and busy harbour action, putting you comfortably
shoulder-to-shoulder with the city's denizens for practically nothing.
A night time, antique double-decker tram ride to/from Causeway Bay - Admiralty (the full
monty is from North Point to Western) is another virtually free tour
enjoyed by all and almost equal to the Star Ferry.
in Stanley Market,
another long standing HK attraction, prettily located in an affluent
part of the Island next to a couple of beaches, the market operates
daily but is best at the weekend when the main street is closed.
real Chinese markets
head for Mongkok in Kowloon by MTR (metro) in search of just about
everything at a knock-down price except serious food; to the Electric
Road food market by tram for kicking and screaming eatables; to Causeway
Bay by tram 7-9pm or Temple Street for incredible knock-offs.
Tourists looking for serious antiques can find them in Hollywood Road
or Cat Street.
Repulse Bay beach.
Islands and beaches
Repulse Bay is one of the best Hong Kong beaches, on the south side of Hong Kong Island and featuring fine imported sand, clear water running at temperatures of between 16C and 26C, shark nets and lifeguards stationed in a traditional-style Chinese beach hut. Needless to say there are eating and drinking facilities nearby and the place is popular, in fact it's shoulder-to-shoulder in summertime.
A little further away and less crowded but still excellent bathing beaches are Deep Water Bay, Middle Bay and South Bay.
Hong Kong encompasses over 200 islands with at least three that come with fast ferry connections, comfortable uncrowded living
conditions in tiny tourist hotels alongside fishing villages and sea
views, excellent eateries, good walks and soft, user-friendly beaches.
The nearer Outlying Islands take around half an hour by fast
ferry or an hour by slow boat.
Cheung Chau is where wind-surfing is
only slightly less popular than praying at the ancient Pak Tai Temple,
Lantau offers wild, protected views,
a mountain cable car ride, a giant buddha at the Po Lin monastery
and the plastic Chinese village of Ngong Ping, while Lamma,
the nearest to HK is a pleasant, quiet, car free island of trees,
green hills, yellow beaches, good bars and restaurants and a monstrous
Sai Kung is a peninsula about 30 minutes from HK centre by MTR (tube) and mini bus 101. The little town is agreeable and well provisioned while the country park offers superb walks and the beaches are equally terrific. Just don't go in the sea!
Lively, modern and sophisticated, SoHo and Lan Kwai Fong are the two
prime destinations for club and music action.
Hiking: The MacLehose Trail is renowned for hiking just a few miles from downtown Hong Kong, undeveloped as it's too pointy. Lantau Island also offers excellent marked
Biking: Hong Kong has good tracks around the harbour
and in the New Territories. There's plenty of bike hire available.
HK also hosts several impressive museums, a couple of colourful
temples, tranquil green parks and lively amusement parks.
Go to the Races: Sha Tin racetrack, 20 minutes by train from Kowloon, is massive and is a excellent place for people watching if you can stay away from the betting: drunk expats are raucously omnipresent as are the notorious Chinese gamblers. Buy a tourist ticket beforehand from one of the Jockey Club shops - you'll need a passport.
The Chinese New Year Jan/Feb is unbearably crowded but the Dragon
Boat Festival in May/June is brilliant; the Lantern Festival Sept/Oct
is luminous and the Festival of Asian Arts in Oct/Nov is a big international
The most famous hotel in the city is The Peninsula, a lovely old low colonial building on the Kowloon shore with a famous tea time string quartets, but looking rather cramped these days.
The really awesome luxury hotels stand tall on the shore of Hong Kong Island, offering incredible views of the harbour and lights of Kowloon, though the peninsula does have an amazing, high level cocktail bar, Felix, on the 28th floor.
The cheapest accommodation in HK is a famous and long-running backpacker institution, Chungking Mansions. Sounds stately doesn't it? Think again. Chungking is well located in the centre of Kowloon's action but don't consider it if you have claustrophobia as it's 17 floors packed with budget hotels, guest houses, curry shops and ethnic minorities with barely a window visible, likened to a walled city by some.
But, if you have no fears and a tight budget head out to 36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.
Chunking is conveniently close to various public transport facilities such as airport buses, regular buses and MTR (metro) rail services.
Don't book in advance, just show up and find the grubby office that acts for all the Chungking accommodation.
Hong Kong's currency is the dollar, HKD or HK$, divided into 100 cents. Note that the currency of the People's Republic of China is different - it's the Renminbi (RMB).
This region is more sophisticated than mainland China so credit cards
can be used freely and ATMs are everywhere. Unfortunately, unlike
the rest of China, modest tipping is an institution.
these are not required for most western nationals visiting HK or
Macau - although naturally a passport is necessary. Mainland China
visas can be acquired in both these places and may be easier to acquire
than in visitor's home country consulates.
is unpredictable and can change very suddenly. It's more sub-tropical than most of China so the best time to
visit differs from the mainland:
Best: September-December, fall
is a pleasant and sunny season with T-shirt days and less rain and dramatic changes than other months. Generally temperatures are around 24C (75F) but can drop below 10C on December nights.
January- February winter temperatures drop to a chillier average of 17C (63F), again with little rain.
March-May, springtime sees comfortable conditions but showers can be very heavy, heading towards storms. Average 20C-25C (68F-86F).
Worst: June-August, don't even think about going to HK in summertime. It's all heat with overpowering humidity that has locals as well as tourists sopping wet in minutes and endless showers or severe storms if that's not enough of a downer. Temperatures average 28C (82F), even at night, but the air feels murderously oppressive.
HK Air Pollution Video
Chinese urban pollution
Current time and temperature in Hong Kong
Harbour, Hong Kong, looking from Kowloon Star Ferry terminal across to
Hong Kong Island, China.
Hong Kong tourism for first-timers
email from Tara
The place is growing on both of us...slowly. It is a huge culture shock - I can't describe how densely packed the skyscrapers are but it is like every fifth building is a skyscraper, and it is not uncommon for them to be 70 storeys high.
Beneath the skyscrapers there is an underworld of tangled banyan trees and steaming Chinese markets selling all sorts of weird and wonderful things we can only guess at - at odds with the trams emblazoned with Marks & Spencers adverts, which snake their way through the streets.
Life is very frank here - people picnic on the sides of busy highways and wear surgical face masks when they have a cold. Yesterday was the day off for all the Filipino maids in HK (that is the main workforce here). So the walkways of the fancy pristine shopping malls crammed with Diors, Louis Vuittons and Versaces were full of hundreds of Filipino girls sitting on flattened cardboard boxes eating noodles, playing card games and chattering away. That is what they do with their one day off, and they were having a great time and looking far smilier than the affluent locals.
The wealthy locals, meanwhile, are very into this concept of 'face' - everything is about how they appear to the rest of the world.
For example, designer dogs are very popular here (many of them sporting the latest fashions themselves) but owners employ dog walkers as they don't want to be seen on the streets.
It is a city of contradictions, with the black-lacquered 20th floor rooftop Armani bar, where a gin & tonic will set you back $20, to the tiny two-seat dim sum restaurants where you can get a fabulous huge bowl of pork and vegetable dumplings for around £2.
People have a lot of pride here, we haven't seen a single beggar (except for one with no arms who was 'legitimately begging').
There is a pervasive sense of hope, even from the poorest stall-holder; everyone has a vocation and they are not going to sit around waiting for a freebie (mainly because they won't get one!).
We are currently staying with friends who live in a beautiful apartment in Sheung Wan. This is a nice area to the West of the Peak (the main mountain on HK island which everything revolves around and the higher you go, the more expensive the apartments, until you reach the top - Severn Road - the world's most expensive real estate per square foot). Here there is a higher ratio of jungle to scraper and a lot of ex-pats have made it their home.
email from Mandy
Hong Kong was vast, high, loud, teeming, seething, in constant motion as always. Not my kind of place, but had some fabulous Chinese food, (snake soup was a first) went to a couple of museums, admired the orchids in the flower market, but my favourite day was taking a taxi out of the madness and walking the Dragon's Back, a fabulous path along a high ridge, with amazing views either side to the cliffs, the sea and the outlying islands. It was hard to believe that such hillsides of unspoiled jungle could exist within twenty minutes of the city. The walk ended in Big Wave Bay – a small cove, totally unspoilt, wide sandy beach lined with manchioneel trees, a few surfers catching the waves, a run-down little beach-side café selling us coconuts to drink, fat chance of a G&T.
In the evening went to Pier 9 and was picked up by a high speed boat and whisked off past the HK city lights to Lamma Island, where we had a lovely seafood dinner, sitting out over the water.
email from Chris Buckell
Cool Place. Bustling streets, crazy night markets (where I got the chance to do some "haggling" a la Monty Python 's Life of Brian) and some of the most exotic food imaginable. We feasted on snails, "Fook Kin" fried rice, razor clams, duck tongues (yes, duck tongues) and chicken feet. As the first non-english speaking country since leaving in November, our main method of communication involved pointing and shouting, with varying degrees of success. Strange; I've never been into a shop looking for a newspaper and come out with a tin opener, a bag of popcorn and a novelty lighter.
Plenty to see in HK, The Harbour comes alive at night, with light shows, concerts and loads of tourists. HK is the home of Kung Fu, and we caught a martial arts show in the Botanical Gardens. We then duly visited the Bruce Lee statue along the famous Avenue of Stars- similar to Hollywood's walk of Fame. Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Bruce himself amongst others were notable entries. After an unsuccessful voyage to try and get into China (we were turned away at the border and sent back to HK) we spent our last day in the Space Museum.
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Chinese food in HK. email from Daniel Nash Segundo
If you're in this part of the world and itching for Chinese style seafood in a memorable setting there are four prime locations for seafood dining on the waterfront, it's just a question of getting to them as none are on Hong Kong Island.
The places to go are the islands of Lamma and Cheung Chau, or Lei Yue Men and Sai Kung in Hong Kong city on the mainland.
Of the latter two, although Lei Yue Men is closer to HK Island, personally I prefer Sai Kung because it is charming and offers a scenic drive.
In Sai Kung town there are a number of good restaurants on a delightful promenade with the possibility of a sampan ride around the harbour, or a post prandial stroll whilst you admire the small boats laden with fresh and dried denizens of the deep.
Chuen Kee is the largest eatery. Facing the water on the left is the older of the two Chuen Kee establishments which has great service but is sadly decorated with large sharks 'fins.
At peak times you will be given a number and then wait for a free table. Happily, the system is very efficient - even on a busy Saturday lunchtime during Chinese New Year I only waited ten minutes and there was plenty to look at during that time because the front of the restaurant is racked with tank upon tank of live fish and other sea creatures, some of which we had never seen before even though we are avid divers.
Once you've been called, you select what you want to eat from the tanks and are given a round numbered chip to take to your table so that the orders don't get mixed up. Then you have a discussion with the waiter or waitress about how you would like each dish cooked, sometimes being given a clear steer - we were told that the shell fish we had picked would go best with a spicy sauce, for instance.
After that, it's pure enjoyment as the courses are served in a sympathetic order from the most subtle to the most strongly flavoured. Our 'uni' (sea urchin) in sashimi style were on a par with the best from Chile whilst the steamed grouper and choy sum with garlic were historic.
Lei Garden on Hong Kong Island offers excellent Chinese nourishment, though is less focused on seafood. There are two locations - one at the International Finance Centre, which may be a tad more tourist friendly, and the other at Wan Chai (Hennessey Road) - but in both cases a reservation is strongly recommended.
A Few Facts
Meaning 'Fragrant Harbour' in China's Cantonese language, HK is the world's densest land area, home to 14 million people - 95% Chinese - and is one of two 'special administrative regions' of China, along with Macau island (ex-Portugal) 37 miles (67 kms) away.
Hong Kong was a very profitable British colony from 1842-1997 and is still run by the Chinese government with a high degree of autonomy from the mainland.
Hong Kong island is the the original British colony
and the most attractive playground in the area, with some staggeringly luxurious hotels, good beaches if you stay out of the water, and great sights such as the famous Victoria Peak.
The Kowloon peninsula, the mainland on the opposite side of the
harbour, is where the serious eating, shopping and cheap hotels are to be found, while further towards China is the New Territories - offering the tourists little but views of monstrous ranks of tightly packed, apartment tower blocks embraced by green hills.
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