Our intrepid traveler Susan has been busy globe-hopping all year. Here’s her useful take with tips on Hong Kong: With its bustling harbor framed by edgy, modern architecture and the natural beauty of the mountain peaks beyond, Hong Kong is a unique sight to behold …
The city, with its British heritage still apparent (street signs and much else in English), is a great stopover before you get into deeper exploration of Mainland China or points beyond in Southeast Asia. Hong Kong and the adjacent New Territories have been designated as an SAR or Special Administrative Region, so for those of us from the U.S. a visa is not required (as it is for mainland China), making a visit there even more accessible.
Once there, it is easy to get around via public transport (and/or taxi) and practically any guidebook (favorites noted below) will spell out the details. Having visited numerous times, and most recently this past Spring, the following are highlights of any visit:
Take the Star Ferry across the harbor: Ranking amongst the cheapest rides of the world, with fares well less than a dollar; historic Star Ferries cross the harbor at regular intervals for a short ride to connect Hong Kong Island with Kowloon on the opposite shore. Splurge an extra few cents for a ride on the upper deck. Not only is this a must, but it is also the fastest way to cross.
Ride the Mid-Level Escalators: Billed as the longest escalator system in the world, the Mid-Level Escalators start just behind the IFC Mall (use the raised walkway system to connect) and allow you to ascend to where many live, the Mid-Levels (justly named as you are climbing a peak). Until 10:00 a.m. the escalators run downhill only, allowing locals to get to work; then, they reverse to go uphill for the rest of the day. Great views down to Hong Kong streets and rooftops are a main attraction, and you can get on and off at practically every major intersection.
Walk Hollywood Road to the Man Mo Temple and then down to Upper Lascar Row (or Cat Street): Combine this with a ride on the Mid-Level Escalators, descend on Hollywood Road, walk along the antique shops and expat hangouts (lots of places to stop for a bite here) and on to the Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong’s oldest temple and definitely worth a visit. Walking along Hollywood Way you’ll also cross a great open-air food market to visit. After seeing the temple, walk down to Upper Lascar Street and browse in the trinket shops that line the street“ fun even if you don’t buy a thing.
Visit the wholesale Chinese food shops in the Western Addition: This can be done as an extension of the walk above or on its own from Central (where the Star Ferry originates). You’ll feel that you are in old Hong Kong here, with numerous shops selling ginseng remedies in bulk among other mysterious items. Cross streets include: Bonham Strand West (Ginseng and Bird’s Nests Sts. and Ko Shing Street aka Herbal Medicine St.).
Take a hydrofoil to Macau: This is a must as a day trip. Check with your hotel about reserving space on the hydrofoil and proceed to the terminal adjacent to the Star Ferry dock in Central. Once in Macau, have the information desk write the directions to the historic center in Chinese and also the directions back to the dock in Macau. A taxi will take you onwards for the brief ride, and you can, then, explore the old Portuguese colony“ the blend of old architecture with Chinese culture is fascinating.
View the evening laser light show projected from the Hong Kong skyline, from the Kowloon side. The walkway along the Kowloon waterfront (as well as other viewing options noted below under Where to Stay and Where to Eat) provides a great view of the lit Hong Kong skyline, which is exciting in its own right. At 8PM every night a laser light show enhances the experience for just a few minutes. Sounds hokey, but it is something to see.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Although the above are favorites, there’s still more to do including:
- taking the Peak Tram from Central up to Victoria Peak above Hong Kong (only in clear weather)
- taking another ferry or hydrofoil from the dock at Central to an outlying island such the tiny island of Cheung Chau or the larger Lantau with its Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
- walking neon-lit Nathan Road on the Kowloon at night (beware of hawkers)
- visiting the Temple Street Night market, also in Kowloon (after 7 PM or so)
- shopping at the market Stanley followed by lunch beachside (a bus ride from Central)
- shopping almost anywhere in the plentiful malls (the new IFC or International Financial Center Mall is a particular beauty with good dining options as well “ www.ifc.com.hk).
- There are numerous museum options as well (consult your guidebook for listings), although I think of Hong Kong as a place to be out and about
Where to Stay:
For my money, the place to stay is the Intercontinental Hong Kong (www.hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com), on the waterfront in Kowloon facing the magnificent harbor and skyline. Formerly the Regent, the Intercontinental group has maintained the restrained elegance of the place and high service level, while keeping the rooms updated. Double-height glass windows in the ground floor bar area provide stunning views of the harbor and Hong Kong skyline. If you are staying here and can splurge, ante up for the Intercontinental Club, located on the mezzanine facing the same view with impeccable service including full made-to-order breakfast (dim sum and/or Western choices), tea time snacks and cocktail hour food and beverages (with a full bar). Although the hotel’s pool faces away from the harbor, the infinity-edged hot tubs/Jacuzzis are spectacularly sited. Yes, there are other hotels on the Kowloon side (many name brands) and all of the expected options on the Hong Kong side, but there is nothing like the Intercontinental in terms of a total experience.
Where to Eat:
On the Kowloon side, there are several good options — Hutong, part of there Agua Restaurant Group (www.agua.com.hk) is on the 28th floor of the modern skyscraper at One Peking Road. Ask for a window table and enjoy both the stunning view and the interior, which is a modern reinterpretation of the courtyard neighborhoods in Beijing, called hutongs. The same restaurant group has just renovated the Hullett House (www.hulletthouse.com) located just in front of Hutong, on Canton Road. It is a colonial building complex that was the Marine Police Headquarters and now houses restaurants and retail stores. Beautifully done, the Chinese restaurant, Loong Toh Yuen was excellent and there are western dining options as well. For casual dining, the aforementioned IFC Mall near the Star Ferry dock has many high quality options, including an outpost of the Shanghai based Crystal Jade (others around town – www.crystaljade.com) where dim sum and handmade noodles are the specialty. For traditional dim sum, try the Luk Yu Teahouse in Central (24-26 Stanley Street). For western food in a quirky environment, try M at the Fringe at 2 Lower Albert Road, also on the Hong Kong side. The Agua Restaurant group has several restaurants on the Hong Kong side as well, including the dramatic Yun Fu on Wyndham Street.
A visit to Hong Kong is not rocket science, and that is one of the charms of going there“ you do not have to work too much to enjoy yourself. Practically any guidebook will work, depending on your preference, but recommended are two pocketsize books“ DK Top Ten Hong Kong and Frommer’s Hong Kong Day by Day. Since they are compact and not pricey getting both would be a good idea as each will contribute useful information for your stay (and good walking tours are found in the Frommer’s book). Also, always useful is Time Out Hong Kong, especially if you are interested in nightlife.
I urge you to go to Hong Kong to enjoy the unique blend of East and West in a fabulous setting!