Top Hong Kong Hotels
Topping the bill is a trip up Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. Views from the top are excellent on a clear day. The century old Peak Tram hauls visitors up its steep inclines and guarantees some superb views on the way up if the top is shrouded in mists, or the city cloaked in smog, which is increasingly the case. You can take a 45-minute stroll around the summit and its worth going up night and day to appreciate both the busy harbour by day and the city lights. There are one or two touristy diversions plus some excellent restaurants up there. At the tip of the peninsula in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) is Kowloon promenade, the best viewpoint of the world famous harbour and a partial escape the frantic streets nearby. The view of Hong Kong Island from here is better than the view from the other side as the island sprouts a dramatic cluster of modern architecture with a graceful mountain backdrop. Theres as much activity on the waters as there is around it hop on the old faithful Star Ferry chugging back and forth between TST and Central and enjoy.
The fabulous modern architecture can be appreciated closer up getting off the ferry at Central youll be struck with some award winning and inventive structures. The Hong Kong Shanghai Bank with its suspension bridge technology and innovative frame, and the distinctive sharp and angular Bank of China both tower above the cool colonial stonework of the Legislative Council.
Back on the opposite waterfront of TST, the Arts Museum focuses on Chinese art through the centuries, with some beautiful examples of porcelain, calligraphy and more bits and bobs. Next door the Cultural Centre has many more contemporary Chinese themes.
Nearby, the dome of the Space Museum is difficult to miss. The free museum section isnt really aimed at tourists although many stop and consider popping in. Its informative with hands-on educational tools - you can try floating around on moon gravity simulators and toppling around in gyroscopic chairs. The top part of the dome has a small Omnimax cinema showing astro or eco-documentaries, and star charts projected on the curved ceiling. Not bad.
Arguably the best of Hong Kongs impressive museums is the History Museum on Chatham Road TST. This spacious museum offers a full historical account of local history dating right back to Neolithic times. The photo exhibits offer an enchanting window on the past and theres lots of buttons and levers for kids. Well worth it.
Quiet and little visited is the commendable Museum Of Coastal Defence near Shau Kei Wan back on Hong Kong Island. Remnants of the strategic British hilltop fort have been converted into a well-presented museum decked with cannons, military vehicles and shells. The Ming period, Opium Wars and WWII battles are thoroughly and dramatically explained. The windswept gun emplacements have commanding views of the harbour. On a similar theme, you can watch the Noon Day Gun go off every day in Causeway Bays yacht filled typhoon shelter.
Whereas the Coastal Defence Museum is relatively inaccessible for historic reasons, the Heritage Museum is just poorly located on the fringes of Sha Tin in the New Territories. Once youve finally found it, you are rewarded with bright and engaging cultural exhibits. While in Sha Tin, you may as well clamber up the hill to Temple Of Ten Thousand Buddhas and sample the thousands of Buddha images and grinning golden deities.
Deeper into the New Territories along the railway line from Sha Tin is Tai Po, and a quick taxi takes you to the village of Lam Tsuen. The village is famed for the Wishing Trees. The idea is to hurl tapered oranges at it until they get trapped in the branches and make a wish. The mighty bows of the older trees have been weighed down by tonnes of fruits and have been pelted by endless citrus strikes over the generations.
For a whiff of joss sticks, try Hong Kongs liveliest Taoist temple at Wong Tai Sin. You might want to try a spot of fortune telling shake a jar of sticks until one falls out and have a translator explain your destiny.
Green Hong Kong
Hong Kong can get a bit much sometimes, so when the senses overload try escaping to the greener areas. More than half of Hong Kong is devoted to National Parks, as most of the population is squeezed into a few miles around the harbour. One the of great things about Hong Kong is that you only need to travel quite literally less than half an hour from any thriving district to enjoy the rural pace and green surroundings. Many picturesque hiking trails exist, they just need tracking down. The MacLehose trail extends 100km across the New Territories with casual hilltop strolls or tougher, more challenging sections for hikers. Another good hiking trail is the Dragons Back on Hong Kong Island.
The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island is a quiet retreat attracting a steady trickle of visitors. Plod up the steps to appreciate Asias largest seated outdoor Buddha statue. Its not all that spectacular but still makes a relaxing afternoon with its scenic location overlooking mountains jutting from the sea. When on Lantau you may as well take an extra 20-minute bus trip to the small, charming and traditional fishing village of Tai O to observe whats left of the quiet traditional village.
Just minutes away from Central is Bowen Road, a leafy and quiet lane mainly cut off to traffic. Being halfway up the mountains it gazes down over the famous strip of skyscrapers lining the harbour. Its an amazing contrast to the city below. Many sections of the road enjoy a thick green canopy, fluttering butterflies and the damp smell of moss. There are surprisingly few people absorbing this lovely respite, only a few joggers, dog walkers and the odd elderly tai chi practitioner.
Whilst it would hardly qualify as a beach destination, Hong Kong does have some reasonable stretches of sands. It can all get a bit crowded on sunnier days, and with mobiles going off you never really escape, but the beaches can still be very pleasant. Clear Water Bay and Sai Kung in the New Territories are by far the cleanest and most picturesque, and theres not a skyscraper in sight. Minibuses run down to Clear Water Bay Beaches 1 and 2 every 15 minutes from Choi Hung MTR Station.
Note: from roughly June to August sharks trawl the waters and theyve munched on more than one bather. If sharks are not your thing then stick to public, life guarded beaches with shark nets. Hong Kong is one of the worlds hotspots for shark attacks.
Hong Kong was once a shopping Mecca, but today, the prices are closer to those of the West and the fantastic bargains are gone. However many goods are still noticeably cheaper and theres a fine choice of mainstream and brand name shopping to be had. Shopaholics will keep coming back for more. Electronic goods are comparatively cheap but overall it is advisable to stick to the bigger stores. Some independent electrical shops in TST are triad run and have a terrible reputation for honesty and service - best avoided. Shopping plazas are everywhere in shopping mad Hong Kong. Nathan Road in TST is often the first port of call for foreign shoppers with its blend of bargain goods, souvenirs and luxuries. Heaving Causeway Bay is more up-market with the focus on brand names and foreign imports. Business district Central again targets the top end. Bigger malls include Ocean Terminus in TST, Pacific Place in Admiralty, Times Square in Causeway Bay and cavernous Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong.
Wan Chai Computer Centre is well known for its cheap software, as is Star Computer Centre near the Star Ferry in TST. Hong Kong is famed for its first class pirated software. The government pays lip service to cracking down on the flagrant black market trade but these, plus other centres like Mong Kok and Sham Shi Po, continue to flourish.
Vibrant and active Temple Street night market kicks into life in the late evenings. It is packed with cheap clothes, pirated discs, food stalls and little trinkets. Towards the centre are traditional fortunetellers, and some speak English. The whir of a tacky toy, waft of snacks and babble of vendors make it a lively place to shuffle along with the crowds.
The Jade Market, open till late, is a similar scene and located at the junction of Kansu and Reclamation Streets in Yau Ma Tei. In a series of small alleys, is the chirping Bird Market in bustling Mong Kok, and nearby Lady Street is stuffed with cheap clothing and copied goods. Incredibly cheap brand name trainers are almost certainly fakes.
Set on the southern side of Hong Kong Island is Stanley Market. Little souvenir shops huddle together in tightly winding alleyways with lots of little bargains and also one or two good-looking antiques. Stanley itself is a nice place to hang out, with a small temple or two and some good restaurants and old pubs.
One of the best places for Chinese antiques anywhere in the world is along Cat Street near Central. Strings of antique shops deal in pieces from over the border. Most shops are reputable and its better to shop for curios here rather than in China where fakes abound and exporting genuine antiques illegal. There are no problems exporting antiques from Hong Kong and Cat Street draws dealers from all over. Some fantastic stuff.
Cyber Hong Kong
Many larger malls and busier streets have coffee shops wired to the web. Pacific Coffee and Starbucks offer free access for customers.
Shiny Internet gaming centres are very popular with Hong Kong teens, but are easy to miss and have a high turnover. As well as surfing, they offer the latest games and often a caf or noodle scene. Plenty of them all over, especially in hang out Mong Kok.
Getting from A to B
Hong Kong's world-class public transport system is easy to use, cheap and fast. As Hong Kong is relatively small you are never that far from your destination. Handy Octopus cards are available at MTR stations and can be used for all major modes of transport and even in some convenience stores. They save queuing for tickets and rummaging for change, and can be cashed in at the end of your stay.
The underground Mass Transit Railway or MTR, is the best way to get around the urban districts. It efficiently shuttles passengers around the busiest areas. It gets very crowded at rush hour but the modern service is the best way to get around.
Hong Kong Island has several traditional trams bumping and clanking along. Cheap but slow they are an enjoyable way to soak up the bustle and neon of the city and people watch. To avoid a tiring trek uphill from Central to the Mid-Levels take the escalator. Not only does it cut down on shoe leather, it cruises you past some of the best dining and entertainment areas.
Taxis are an excellent and cheap way to skip around and always metered. Sometimes its best to show the driver where you are going on a map since few speak good English. Hire cars are available but are almost impossible to park in the city and somewhat impractical unless you intend to visit rural areas.
Between them, buses and minibuses cover just about every road and offer a very economic mode of travel. Buses are simpler to understand, sticking to set timetables and routes, while minibuses require a degree of familiarity and interaction with the usually frantic, Cantonese speaking drivers. Both run overnight - a time when minibuses can reach horrendous speeds.
The KCR train line links Kowloon to The New Territories and terminates at the Chinese border at Lo Wu. Cross-border trains direct to Guangzhou or lengthy epics to Beijing leave from Hung Hom terminus in TST East.
As an international port, Hong Kong is well linked by sea. Ferries criss-cross the harbour continuously throughout the day and the territory is connected to Macau and various points in China by jetfoils, ferries and catamarans. The main terminals are at TST and Sheung Wan. Macau can also be reached by helicopter in just over 15 minutes flying across the harbour is a treat.
The territory is a regular stopover point for cruise liners. Star Leo offers overnight trips and longer journeys to Hainan and Vietnam.
The Chek Lap Kok International Airport is accessible by road and rail. The efficient Airport Express runs frequently between 6am and 1am. The smooth and comfortable service reaches Kowloon in only 19 minutes and Central in 23. To save time check-in at Central or Kowloon stations. Cheaper Cityflyer airport buses operate virtually around the clock at 15 - 20 minute intervals - depending on traffic they take about 40 minutes to reach Central.
Entertainment and Eating Out
Hong Kong is bursting with restaurants of every description and budget. For information on dining and what's on, check HK Magazine or BC Magazine, free in many bars. The Cantonese are surprisingly slim bearing in mind the enormous importance they place on eating. Restaurants abound with great cuisine available wherever you go. The famous floating Jumbo Restaurant is a bit of a clich with overdone Chinese themes. For those who know their Cantonese cuisine, and for many who dont, the food is overrated, expensive and mass-produced. Hong Kongs biggest tourist trap.
East Ocean restaurants have a reputation for quality Cantonese food with several outlets around Hong Kong serving top dim sum and evening meals. Yung Kee Restaurant in Central is a good authentic Chinese restaurant with a thriving dim sum scene. There are also plenty of open-air seafood choices on the outlying islands such as Lamma Island and a seafood strip at Sai Kung.
Some classy joints include the swanky Felix atop the Peninsula Hotel. Another attraction to this for men at least is the gents restroom the harbour view over the urinals is one of the best in Hong Kong! Rivaling Felixs gents for views is Caf Deco, formerly known as the Peak Caf, perched on Victoria Peak. With the dramatic views along the arcing windows it has to be one of the most satisfying spots to enjoy a fine dinner.
Walking the more grungy streets of Hong Kong youll notice plenty of makeshift street restaurants whipping up cheap eats such as noodles, hotpots and stir-fries. Locally known as Dai Pai Dongs you may have a problem ordering as they are almost exclusively Cantonese speaking and more delicate travellers could well go down with belly bugs, but its the real deal and dirt cheap. Temple Street market has many that are used to the odd adventurous tourist.
Trendy and pricey Lan Kwai Fong in Central has the best range of bars and pubs and is particularly popular with the sizeable expatriate community. Soho, the area South of Hollywood Road and Noho, North of Hollywood Road have a trendy mix of restaurants and cafes.
Nearby Wanchai is famed for its pulsating nightclubs plenty of 24 hr entertainment here, pubs, strip clubs and pick up joints. Joe Bananas on the corner is an old favourite, but dress code applies. Nearby is heaving From Dusk Till Dawn, and Delaneys is a traditional Irish pub with live sports. At Strawberries even the baldest and ugliest businessmen cant fail to find company.
Busy TST has a bit of everything and the entertainment district spreads beyond. Again there are a number of appealing watering holes. The rather wilted Kangaroo Pub draws homesick Australians, theres dark and crowded Chasers with its live Filipino bands, and several other good basement pubs with live sports.
Seaside Stanley has a number of pubs and restaurants that wouldnt look out of place back in the UK. Besides the coastal pubs with their fish and chips is the commanding Boat House jutting out into the sea. The menu is very tourist friendly with some of the most reliable western dishes in the area.
Neon-lit Mong Kok is stuffed with people letting their hair down after dark but tends to be more Chinese-oriented with karaoke bars and local pubs. TST East has a number of expensive nightclubs populated with local businessmen and escorts.
The territory has a good eco-friendly theme park although its popularity is waning. Ocean Park on HK Island has a full range of entertainment and some freaky rides including freefall turbo drops, roller coasters and as a superb educational marine park. The cable cars threaded across the mountains lend awesome views. Ocean Park is an all round family entertainer, although not quite on par with bigger international theme parks, it does have something for everyone and is a fun day out.
The Peak has some top restaurants and a newly opened Madame Tussauds complete with 100 grinning local and international figures. Its smaller and much less impressive than its London counterpart, but gives you the opportunity to get snaps with the stars. The Peak Explorer is rather poor unless youre under 12. The motion simulator is set in a sci-fi setting with a big cinematic screen and each member of the audience is violently shaken around by their spasming seat. It looks a little tacky, but Ripleys Believe It Or Not is probably the best of the three, with some genuine weird exhibits on display such as dissected heads, many more passable ones, plus engaging optical illusions.
Hotels can connect you with a whole array of little trips. There are a few half-day tours for the uninitiated that cover the basics Greyline are the leaders in the field. A good open top tram tour also helps you get your bearings. Public transport is excellent so tours arent really necessary, but there are some lovely hidden corners of Hong Kong that can be hard to track down and are most easily reached by joining a tour.
Looking at the map its clear the territory is mainly a scattered collection islands. Its certainly worth appreciating Hong Kong from the water. Watertours offer a mainly attractive range of boats and junks, with cocktail and island trips and dinner cruises. Dinner stops may include village seafood restaurants or the famous floating Jumbo restaurant. You might want to try dolphin watching where you stand a very high chance of spotting Hong Kongs endangered pink dolphins.
Hong Kong is a good base for side trips into Mainland China. Shenzhen is a rather gritty frontier town thats prime attraction is that it is significantly cheaper than Hong Kong all round. Within an hour or two of Shenzhen are some pretty fair Chinese oriented theme parks. Window Of The World has scale replicas of world landmarks including a very impressive sized Eiffel Tower.
The former Portuguese enclave of Macau is definitely worth including on your Hong Kong Itinerary if you have a little time. This tiny territory has some unusual Portuguese ruins and appealing cultural hangovers. Broad European roads and other Iberian little touches make for a total contrast to cluttered and manic Hong Kong.
You may think that Chinese New Year would be a great time to come but virtually everything shuts down, making it exceptionally boring. The Lunar New usually falls in late January or early February. You might be lucky enough to encounter spontaneous lion dances or illegally exploding firecrackers. Traditionally, a firework display lights up the harbour. One of the top festivals visually is the Bun festival in Cheung Chau. Each April or May, a giant tower of buns is stuck together and little children and dressed up in traditional costume and paraded around on hand-held platforms. Perhaps Hong Kongs most visually impressive festival.
Perhaps the biggest annual sporting event is the riotous Hong Kong Sevens with 3 days of international rugby and a boisterous crowd. Enthusiasm always spills over into a gigantic drinking session throughout the downtown bars.
The Dragon Boat Festival in early June salutes the hero Ch'u Yuen who drowned himself in a river in protest against the corrupt government. As the legend goes, peasants threw rice dumplings into the water to stop the fish from eating him. Energetic dragon boat races are mark the occasion, the bigger events being held in Stanley, Tai Po and Sha Tin and the official races in the harbour itself.
The handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997 is now marked each year. HKSAR Establishment Day on 1st July is an annual bank holiday and usually involves a massive firework display over the harbour.
The Mid Autumn Festival marks a revolt against the Mongols when the call to arms was secretly spread by hiding messages inside moon cakes. Crowds flock to high places with lanterns and cakes. Victoria Park often puts on a good show.
Happy Valley and Sha Tin Racecourses venues thrive from late September to May, the racing season. Cantonese are mad gamblers and the atmosphere is frenzied. Happy Valley has more character and the tram stops right outside - meetings usually take place on Wednesday nights.
Tourist Information Offices
Tourist info is available at the airport and the Star Ferry Concourse in TST. The basement of the gleaming angular skyscraper known as The Centre in Central has a helpful office thats open except Sundays and holidays.