When you fly into Hong Kong there is a feeling of excitement as you look down at what looks like a forest of high rise buildings strung out along the coastlines, the coastlines that cradle Victoria Harbour, Kowloon Bay, the islands of Hong Kong and Lantau opposite the New Territories. At night Hong Kong is a sea of lights, while in the day, you see the mass of high rise buildings beside the Harbour with a backdrop of mountain hills behind them.
WELCOME TO HONG KONG – One of the most exciting cities in the world.
Hong Kong has a population of 7.3 million people (2016), not including the millions of tourists that flock here every year, all within a total area of just 1104 square kilometres, with the vast bulk of this population being concentrated on the island of Hong Kong, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. There are around 200 islands that actually make up Hong Kong and there are also large areas of greenery, beaches and park areas too.
Some 92% of the population is of Chinese descent, with Cantonese being the main language. There will also be many people who know or speak some English – you just have to ask and someone is bound to help with directions or other information. Don't expect everyone to speak English though. When it comes to buying food, you can always point at what you want too – this being an International language that everyone understands!
Hong Kong has long being known as "the Pearl of the Orient", "the 'Gateway to China" and it has been a Port City that buzzes with activity 24 hours a day with its mix of Chinese and British origins.
On January 26th, 1842, following the Anglo- China War (1839-1842) (The first 'Opium War') the Treaty of Nanking was signed between the Chinese Qing Dynasty and the British, resulting in Hong Kong Island and Hong Kong Harbour both being proclaimed as a British Crown Colony.
Kowloon then became part of Hong Kong in 1860 following the second Opium War and in 1898 the New Territories also became part of Hong Kong under a 99 year lease to the British from China.
99 years later in 1997, when the lease to Britain expired, Hong Kong officially came back under Chinese Government control, becoming the "Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China".
While the island of Hong Kong and Kowloon had leases in perpetuity, rather than the 99 years, the British agreed that all of Hong Kong would come under China's control and authority. The transition from British rule in 1997 to Chinese control was a highly contentious period of time for the people of Hong Kong and while today the relationship between China and Hong Kong remains calm, there is no denying that there is still a degree of what could be loosely be called tension, suspicion or anxiety between the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authority.
As of 2016, there are around 10,000 residents of Hong Kong who are British or of British origin, but equally about the same number of Australians, 23,000 Americans and 28,000 Indians. While many Brits may have lived their whole life in Hong Kong, they may well still call themselves, "Ex-pats" retaining a British passport.
Many Indians, but not all, trace their ancestry back to 1841, to the early days of British conquest – when their forebears were either 'troops' in the British Army or 'civil servants' or 'traders' working for the British East India Company. Others arrived over the centuries since working in Banking, Finance, Property, Clothing, diamond trading and other industries.
There are however far greater numbers of people from Indonesia and the Philippines – around 200,000 Filipinos and 165,000 Indonesians – many working as domestic 'maids' or "helpers" in the hospitality industry. Under Hong Kong law there is an established Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) which in 2016 was HK$4210, approximately US$540 per month. The 'Helpers' have one day off a week, this being Sunday and on this day they will meet with others from their homeland and share time with them.
In many ways the whole 'maid'/ 'helper' system is a colonial overhang, but at the same time the money the 'helpers' earn will often be the only financial support their family back home receives. For the 'Honkies' – having a maid is also very much accepted as part of their way of life and it is not unusual for the very wealthy to have several maids.
As a trading nation, Hong Kong is the 8th largest trading port in the world, and with a personal tax of 15% and corporate tax of just 16.5%, the economy has remained strong, with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, banking, manufacturing, retailing, property development and the access to China ensuring the status of Hong Kong as a centre for business and trade.
Three companies, the Swire Group that owns Cathay Pacific Airlines; the Jardine Matheson Group that owns a vast array of businesses and HSBC Bank are perhaps synonymous with Hong Kong and its British Heritage, but there is a growing list of other companies too.
As a tourist destination, Hong Kong has been a popular destination for over 100 years – and the great food, excellent transport, thousands of restaurants, shopping and excellent hotels make Hong Kong a dream destination for foodies and shoppers hoping to pick up a bargain.
One thing is certain – Hong Kong people love to eat and you will find some of the world's best chefs and amazing food here and also 'wet' markets. Wet markets are where every day you find the meats, fish, fresh coconut, herbs and spices and other 'wet' fresh foods being sold. These markets are where people shop for their everyday food – but even as a Tourist they can be fun to visit and watch and see daily life in Hong Kong.
There are of course supermarkets (look for Dairy Farm or Carrefour) and these are growing fast competing with the traditional wet markets.
THE AIRPORT and TRANSPORT –
The Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is located on the largely reclaimed land island of Chek Lap Kok which is 35.3 kilometres from the Downtown City Centre, a 24 minute ride on the Airport Express Metro. At the Airport you will find a well organised array of Information, restaurants, shops, lounges, flight arrivals and departures information. There are 87 Stations serviced by the Metro line and 68 Light Rail stops too and at the Airport you can also find Taxis, limos and bus transport too.
To travel on the Metro Express (MTR – Mass Transit Railway) – you can buy a 1 day pass or one just for the Airport Express, or you can buy an Octopus Card – (Like London's Oyster Card, or Sydney's Opal card) that allows you to 'tap' on and off at Metro Stations, and 'top up' more value as you need it. The Octopus Card uses either a QR code on your phone or a Ticket card and you can use the Octopus Card to pay for the Metro, light rail, buses (AirBus) and ferries.
At the HKIA there is the SkyPier Ferry services also that will take you to different points of the Harbour, to Macau's Maritime Ferry Terminal or to one of the 9 ports including Guangzhou and other stops in China. Note that you need a separate Visa to enter China and these Chinese Ports and also an Entry Permit for Macau.
As Visa entry requirements vary according to which passport you carry, so it is always worth checking at the time you are looking to plan your journey or itinerary whether you need a visa or not. Also note, that in some instances, your passport may need to have up to 6 months validity prior to its expiry date. It pays to double check.
WHERE TO STAY –
Hong Kong has four seasons – Summer is in June, July, August and Winter is around Christmas time – December to February. Fall/Autumn is between September to November and Spring is between March to May. High season – meaning more expensive pricing will centre on the summer months and Christmas/New year – including Chinese New Year(last weeks of January).
Also bear in mind that the Typhoon season is in July-August, though Typhoons may or may not happen.
In terms of where to stay – there are literally thousands of hotels to stay in and there are hotels available from 5 Star to budget. Property is very expensive in Hong Kong – so hotel rooms tend to be smaller than you find in many other parts of Asia, and if you want a western style breakfast and not a Chinese style one – Check with the hotel you are booking to see what they provide. Also check to see if they have free Wi-Fi too, if this is what you need.
Many mainland Chinese also travel to Hong Kong as tourists too, as well as to buy things that they may not be able find in their homeland.
In my opinion the best place to stay in Hong Kong is probably Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island. Causeway Bay is also a MRT Metro Stop. Here you are fairly central to get to other parts of Hong Kong via the MRT or the Star Ferry and right here in Causeway Bay, there is a myriad of shops, bars and restaurants. The ideal is finding a hotel that has a view from your window over Victoria Harbour, but that also comes with a cost. Other areas on Hong Kong Island to stay are the area called 'Central' (the Business Centre) and 'Sai Ying Pun'.
You could also stay on the Kowloon Peninsula (a ferry ride or MTR Metro ride across from Hong Kong Island) in the district known as Tsim Sha Tsui. There are a myriad of hotels to choose from here too.
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is located on Lantau Island – about midway between the Airport and the City Centre and if you are coming to Hong Kong, this can also be a good place to stay if you intend to spend time seeing Disneyland.
Away from the City Centre, there are also many hotels including ones near the beaches on the south side of Hong Kong Island around Repulse Bay, South Bay and Stanley Bay on the South China Sea. Bus 6 (there are others) leaves from Exchange Square near the Central MTR Station to Repulse Bay and on to Stanley. Exchange Square is also where the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is located too.
If you are looking to get away from the High Rise and noise of Hong Kong, you could also head to one of Hong Kong's outer islands and stay in a fishing village on Lamma Island, Lantau, Cheung Chau or Peng Chau Island. The two most popular islands are Lamma Island that has the fishing villages like Sok Kwu Wan and beaches, along with walking trails, bars and restaurants, especially seafood restaurants too and Lantau Island, famous for its massive size Buddha Statue and the Ngong Ping 360 Cable car that takes a 25 minute journey across the island. Also here is the Citygate Outlet Stores -20 Tat Tung Rd in Tung Chung. The easiest way to get to Tung Chung and the cable car is by MTR stopping at Tung Chung Station. It is near the Airport.
Many people coming to Hong Kong will also head to Macau and the casinos there – and could well be seen as the gambling and entertainment centre of the world. (See Macau for more details). There are no legal casinos in Hong Kong, only a few 'cruises to no-where' that go off the coast 12 miles out of the Hong Kong into international waters. What is legal in Hong Kong is horse racing and there are two horse racing tracks in Hong Kong – Happy Valley (in central) and Sha Tin (in the New Territories).
A Bird's Eye view of Hong Kong -
In the centre of Hong Kong you are surrounded by High Rise Buildings, shops everywhere you look and a mass of people. In some ways this can be a bit overwhelming, but at the same time you can also very quickly get caught up in the energy and pulse of a city that is alive with activity.
To get a good view of the City, there are a number of ways to do this.
To me the best way to see Hong Kong is from the water, catching a Star Ferry from Pier 7 in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula or from Wan Chai in Causeway Bay. Star Ferries have been carrying people across Victoria Harbour since 1880 when the service first started, and a Star Ferry trip from Pier to Pier lasts about 1 hour. Ideally if you can take the Ferry very early morning and also at night, you will see Hong Kong come to life as the sun rises and also at night when the lights of the buildings create a whole new look to the City. The Festival of Lights is at 8pm each night, when 44 high rise building come to life in music, sound and lights – and the best way to see this is from a Ferry or from a vantage point that overlooks Victoria Harbour – from either north or south side.
Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade runs beside Victoria Harbour on the Kowloon side and is also a great place to walk and also take in the views and atmosphere.
If you want to get up high and look over the Hong Kong, the best and most fun way to do this is to catch the Victoria Peak Tram from the Lower Terminus at 33 Garden Rd, Central that heads up to the top of 552 metre high Victoria Peak. The historic funicular trams date back to 1888 and run every 15 minutes or so to the top (day and night) where you will find nature walkways and also the Peak Tower, which has restaurants, shops and the Sky Terrace 428 viewing platform.
The other way to get up high and look over Hong Kong is to go to the top of one or more of the high rise buildings. At #1 Garden Rd you will see the 70 storey high Bank of China Tower building and there is a public viewing area on Level 43. The building itself was designed by the architect, I.M Pei.
Even higher is the Sky 100 deck located on the 100th floor of the ICC, International Commerce Centre building at 1 Austin Rd West in Kowloon, nearest MTR Metro station is Kowloon. It takes just 60 seconds for the double decker lift/elevator to take you to the top of the building, some 393 metres above sea level.
Another way to see Hong Kong is to take a ride one of the many double decker buses and Double decker trams (Ding Dings) that you see and there is also a Hop On - Hop off open top bus too – that takes in a number of Tourist locations.
Also at 33 Man Kwong Street in Central there is the Hong Kong Observation Wheel – a giant Ferris wheel that is 60 metres high and quite close to the International Finance Centre building near Central Piers 9 and 10.
If you are in the south of Hong Kong Island at Aberdeen Promenade, you will see Sanpan boats there ready to take you out on a real sampan boat. It is a bit of fun and a different experience.
FOOD and DRINK –
The two favourite activities of both the people of Hong Kong and also visitors to the city – are shopping and eating and there is no shortage of places to shop and also eat from Street and market vendors to high end restaurants with celebrity chefs creating Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Asian, American, western, fusion food and also High Teas.
In every part of Hong Kong there are places to eat and the best idea is to get a recommendation from your hotel concierge as to the best and closest Restaurant that they recommend for the type of food, price, drinks, atmosphere or Hong Kong experience that you are looking for. If you are in Hong Kong for a number of days or weeks, you will certainly get to know a local favourite place to go and maybe do a mix of high end eating and just heading to a market stall. In Hong Kong the food stalls are called Dai Pai Dongs and they are pretty safe to eat from, often specialising in a particular dish or dishes. If there are people lining up, it usually is an indication that the food is good.
There are also places where you can experience 'Dim Sum' / 'Yum Cha' – where trolleys of different dishes are brought to your table and you can either select a dish or decline it, knowing that another dish more to your liking will follow.
All of the big name international hotels have their own restaurants too and often they will have a Celebrity Chef and special menu nights too. There are also many restaurants that come with a view and also rooftop bars and clubs. One website to check out for up to date information on the latest trendy bar or place to shop, eat or drink is www.sassyhongkong.com
If looking for night life, the area known as Lan Kwai Fong in the Central District is where you find lots of bars, restaurants, pubs, clubs and street atmosphere. The streets to head to are D'Aguilar Street and Theatre Lane, with the MTR Metro station being Central, Exit D2. Also the area known as Soho – look for Shelly, Elgin, Peel, Staunton Streets and the quaintly named Old Bailey Street. In Soho, you will find a mix of Chinese and western food options too.
HONG KONG – Culture
Hong Kong has a mix of both Chinese and British heritage which makes it all the more interesting to see and find places of interest. There are a number of museums, art galleries, gardens, churches, temples, historic buildings and other places to see. Here we have listed some of the places that you might find of interest.
Hong Kong Museum of History - located on Science Museum Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon Peninsula). It has a number of exhibition galleries showcasing Hong Kong's history from its beginnings to today.
Hong Kong Science Museum – is next door to the Museum above, with 500 science related exhibits. Kids will enjoy it.
Hong Kong Space Museum – 10 Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui. This museum is located in the dome shaped next to the Harbour. There is a planetarium here, with an Omnimax theatre where the images are projected onto the ceiling of the dome.
Museum of Art – is a big art museum, but closed with its new building only scheduled to open in 2019. Some of its collection is located in temporary 'art spaces'. To find where, see www.lcsd.gov.hk or phone (852) 2721 0116. Also the Avenue of Stars – is also being re-developed too.
Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum – is house museum located at 7 Castle Road in Central. For those people wanting to learn more about China's history and Sun Yat Sen, "the father of Modern China" this is a good place to see.
Museum of Coastal Defence – 175 Tung Hei Rd, Shau Kei Wan (Hong Kong Island). This museum is located in the old Lei Yue Mun Fort, that was built by the British to protect Hong Kong. It saw action in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Hong Kong. There are a large number of exhibits including weapons too.
The Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware – 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Admiralty. For people with an interest in tea, this is a must see with its amazing collection of ceramic teapots and teas.
Liang Yi Museum – 181-199 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan (in Central). This is a private collection of what is said to be the world's best collection of Chinese Furniture. To see the collection, you need to book a tour – Tel: (852) 2806 8280 www.liangyimuseum.com Also here there is a collection of ladies powder boxes, compacts and clutches from the 1930's. Hollywood Road and close by Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row) are great places to wander and see antiques and buy souvenirs too. Hollywood Road is one of the first streets in Hong Kong, dating back to 1844. The Tai Pink Shah Temple and Man Mo Temple are both located on Hollywood Road.
International Hobby and Toy Museum – 7 Castle Rd, Yau Ma Tei. Hong Kong toymakers have made millions of toys and games that are sold all over the world. Here you will find a great collection of dolls, models, action toys.
Hong Kong Racing Museum – is at the famous Happy Valley Racecourse – 2/F Happy Valley Stand. This museum is open 12pm to 7pm Monday to Sunday with tours at 3pm and 5pm in the afternoon. The main night for racing is Wednesday nights – September to June. MTR Causeway Bay, Exit A (Times Square). Shin Tin Raceway (the other racecourse in Hong Kong) is located in the New Territories – near MTR Metro Sha Tin.
Hong Kong Police Museum – 27 Coombe Road, The Peak. To get there take Bus 15 from Exchange Square and get off at Wan Chai Gap stop. There are about 1200 exhibits here from guns, to triads, opium pipes and Police memorabilia.
Madame Tussauds – is in Peak Tower (a great modern building) at the top of Victoria Peak. While not exactly a museum it does have over 100 lifelike wax figures of notable or famous people in politics, sport and movies. Also in Peak Tower is Ripley's Believe it or not.
Wan Chai – House of Stories. This is a small museum at G/F Hing Wan Street is Wan Chai. It provides a glimpse into the local street culture of traditional Chinese life in Wan Chai. They also sometimes run small tours of the area too. See www.houseofstories.sjs.org.hk
Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum – 45 Tung tau Wan Road (off Stanley Village Road) in Stanley (on the south side of Hong Kong Island).
PARKS and GARDENS –
Hong Kong is very conscious of providing urban space for people to walk and spend leisure time, given that most of the people live in high rise apartment buildings. There are the walkways besides the Harbour, the best one being Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, and also out of Hong Kong to the north and south there are hiking trails, beach areas and places to go bike riding too. If you are looking for hiking See www.royceto.com/maclehose-trail . The Maclehose Trail is in the New Territories.
In Hong Kong itself if you are looking for some space – these are some of the parks to visit.
Hong Kong has been a famous city for shopping for over a century and it is still true today. From tailor made suits and shirts, lingerie, fashion, toys, jewellery, gold, watches, electronics, games, shoes, chop sticks, ceramics, duty free, you name it -you will be able to find it in Hong Kong.
Almost every street and the laneways that run off them, you will find things to see and buy. There are department stores like Marks and Spencer – who have a number of stores across Hong Kong and Shopping Malls as well as markets. Listed below are just a few of the places where you could shop. There are so many more.
Hennessy Road is the long road that leads from Yee We Road in Causeway Bay in the East to Queensway in Wan Chai and onwards to Central. St Laurent and the Department Store, SOGO are located at East Point – at 555 Hennessy Rd and Hysan Place at #500, but all along this main road you will find interesting sights to see and shops where you might want to stop.
In Causeway Bay you have Causeway Bay Plaza at 489 Hennessey Road with 20 floors of shops, offices and restaurants.
In Causeway Bay they also have what they call the 'Fashion Walk' – that is centred on a number of streets – Great George Street, Paterson Street and Cleveland, Kingston and Gloucester Street. At 280 Gloucester Road you will find the World Trade Centre with 6 floors of shops. If you head to the Harbour end of Gloucester Street at #221, this is where at 12 noon, the official Midday 'Firing of the Gun' takes place.
Times Square is another Shopping Mall with some 14 floors of shops. It is located at 1 Matheson Street. Lee Theatre Plaza has 7 floors of shops and is located at 99 Percival Street; City Plaza is at 18 Taikoo Shing Road with around 170 shops and the Design Gallery - a showcase for Hong Kong's fashion designers is located in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre – 1 Harbour Rd, Wan Chai.
If you are looking for Toys look for Tai Yuen Street in Wan Chai. There are lots of small shops here in Wan Chai, so a good place to just wander.
TEMPLES and CHURCHES –
Hong Kong has all the glitz and glamour of an international city, but it also has its traditional Chinese Temples and also Churches from the days of the British.
This is just a short list of the Temples and Churches, but there are others.
HIGH TEA -
If you would like to be transported back to the days of the Raj and the glory days of the British Empire, then taking tea at a prestige hotel might well be something to enjoy on an afternoon out.
The best place to do this is in the Lobby in the Peninsula Hotel – Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui. The Hotel was built in 1928, so has the décor and style like the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
Also for High Tea and great views – head to Café 103 in the Ritz Carlton Hotel – Austin Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Another place is Café Gray in the J. W Marriot Hotel, 88 Queensway, Admiralty on Hong Kong Island.
None of the big hotels or name restaurants are cheap, but they do have the atmosphere and are a part of what makes Hong Kong such an interesting city.
Overall Hong Kong is a safe city, but like any big city, you should be careful where you go and what you do. Everyone has something to sell, and being a tourist, you are a prime sales target.
If you are staying in Hong Kong for only a short period of time, you will most likely spend all of your time in the City, but bear in mind that not far out of Hong Kong there are hiking trails, the beaches, places in the south of Hong Kong Island – like Aberdeen and Stanley, as well as the outer islands and New Territories where there are wetland areas, the mountains and villages. The Pin Shan Heritage Trail in the New Territories will take you past a Pagoda, a walled village (SheungCheung Wai) temples and small villages, where rural life is quite different to those living in the City of Hong Kong itself.
Hopefully some of the information written here will help you find places that you want to see.
I hope you have a great time in Hong Kong.