HONG KONG could be very much ‘abroad’. Now that the near continent is well accessible, countries resembling France, Spain, Italy seem to merge styles and culture to become one generic Euro-Country. In contrast Hong Kong looks like a foreign country. It also has reminders of a colonial past, so your trip there as well as being a trip to a foreign country can also be a visit into the past.
Hong Kong can be a brash mixture of Western and Eastern cultures, a meld of designer clothing, electronic consumables and Chinese superstitions. Modern apartment tower blocks, very Western in style and decor, don’t have floor numbers ending in ‘4’ because the number 4 in Cantonese could be very near the Cantonese word for ‘death’.
Additionally, you will stand out as a tourist amongst the Chinese rather than being able to blend in with other Europeans as you’d nearer to home. And unless you are an exceptional linguist there will not be any attempts to converse in Cantonese with the locals. But don’t despair, due to its history and a large ex-pat community most Chinese, at least in restaurants and shops, will likely be able to speak English. Most of the road names and signs are in English in addition to Cantonese.
The first thing you will notice about this lively place is its modern, efficient mass transit systems. Arriving at the brand new airport, Chek Lap Kok, you essentially walk in a straight line from gate through baggage & customs onto a (usually) waiting train that takes you right into the guts of Kowloon, a preferred hotel and tourist district. For exploring further the subway system (MTR – Mass Transit Railway) is very cheap and clean with air-conditioned trains and stations.
Taxis are also plentiful and really cheap, thanks to the fact that most people don’t run their very own cars and rely instead upon buses, taxis and the MTR.
It is a good idea to get the name of your hotel printed onto a card in Cantonese in order that you can make yourself understood to the taxi driver when you need to get back to your hotel.
Additionally, you will notice the fact that you are in the tropics. The climate is hot and humid, even at night. But air-conditioning is abundant, in reality on some streets you will probably be dripped on by water from the air-conditioning condensers attached to most every window of the buildings towering above the streets.
As a gweilo (‘ghost people’, the Cantonese term for pale-faced Westerners) you will be targeted on busy Nathan Road by the many street salesmen : “Copy watch, sir?”, “Custom suit?”, “Free drink?”, “Jade rings?”. Unless you are happy to part along with your money for fakes, or buy clothing with a better price tag than its quality merits, learn to ignore these people. Even saying ‘No’ is seen as a sales opening.
Hong Kong has much to offer everyone from sightseeing to shopping to eating to easily absorbing the atmosphere and mixture of cultures this world-class city has to offer. Listed here are some must see places on your visit :
The Peak Tram is maybe the preferred tourist attraction and definitely a must on any visit to Hong Kong. A furnicular railway takes you up The Peak for some breathtaking views of the Kowloon Penisular, Victoria Harbour and surrounding islands.
You’ll be able to reach the Peak Tram station using the No 15C Shuttle Bus from the Star Ferry Terminal in Central or the No 12S bus from Admiralty MTR station. The Peak Tram runs every quarter-hour from 7am to midnight – views at night are equally breathtaking to see Hong Kong’s sparkling panorama.
On the summit there are shops, restaurants and other attractions besides the 360 degree panoramic view.
The Star Ferry at Tsim Sha Tsui (pronounced Chim Sow Choi) for just a few pennies plys back and forth across busy Victoria Harbour linking the Kowloon peninsular with Central and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island.
You can take the MTR from Kowloon to Central, but a visit on the ferry is a must for the experience and views of Victoria Harbour.
The Mid Levels Escalator, at 800m is the longest covered outdoor escalator system on the planet. It carries commuters between the prestigious Mid Levels residential area and the heart of Central Hong Kong.
Travel along it is free but beware it operates in one direction (down) through the morning rush hour then is switched to up thereafter.
Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei on the Kowloon peninsular is home to street hawkers desperate to sell tourists anything from custom-made suits to copy Rolex watches.
At Yau Ma Tei, the Jade Market has loads of the cool green stone carved right into a myriad of shapes.
Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island. Spirals of insense burn to fill the temple with scented smoke that clings to your skin and clothes long after you’ve gotten left.
Nearby is the famous Chop Alley (Man Wa Lane) which is lined with small green-painted huts where chop makers sell chops. A chop is a Chinese seal typically carved from jade, soapstone, bone or ivory. You may get the carvers to translate your name into Chinese for a custom-made seal. For a soapstone custom-made chop expect to pay around £15.
Shopping in Hong Kong
Central, Admiralty, and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, along with Tsim Tsa Tsui and Mong Kok in Kowloon are the main shopping areas. Shopping hours vary, but most shops are open until late at night, seven days per week. Shops are also open on public holidays, except through the Lunar New Year. However, shops in Central close earlier at around 6 p.m., but the opposite main areas stay open until 9:30 p.m.
Main shopping malls on Hong Kong Island include Landmark in Central, Pacific Place in Admiralty, Times Square in Causeway Bay, and City Plaza in Taikoo Shing. Kowloon also has its share of malls, which incorporates the linked Ocean Terminal and Harbour Centre complexes.
Yuen Po Street, Mong Kok, 10 minutes walk from Prince Edward MTR station.
Hundreds of song birds in cages of all shapes and sizes combine to make a noise
Not a market, but there’s a definte market-feel to the numerous shops which are crammed along the lower end of this street in Tsim Sha Tsui with their neon signs jutting out into the road from the buildings. Here there’s everything from cameras, electronic goods, tailors to jewellery shops. Street hawkers will offer “Custom suit”, “Copy watch”, “Jade rings”, anything and everything is available here.
Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei
After dusk into late night a flick thru this market is fascinating. There’s everything from fortune-tellers to open air restaurants.
Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok
Open daily from noon to 10:30pm sells everything from fake designer accessories and clothing to cheap cosmetics and toys. It is also popular for late night snacks.
Kansu & Battery Streets, Yau Ma Tei
Open daily 10am to three:30pm this market has jade objects in many different styles and sizes. Beware though, not all of the objects are genuine jade, but if you are not too bothered you may get a reasonably priced souvenir.
Hong Kong Island
Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row)
Shops along this street are crammed with a mixture of bric-a-brac, real and fake antiques and hundreds of stalls.
Opened in 1906 this red brick built building was a food market for greater than 80 years. Today it has been restored and in 1991 became a shopping complex. It offers handcrafts, fabric and souvenir stalls.
Stanley Market Road, Stanley, Hong Kong Island
Stanley Market is the right place to buy something special for friends or relatives. The historic fishing lanes are jam-packed with vendors selling Chinese artwork, silk collectibles and curios.