Beijing Getaways: Hong Kong 香港
Hong Kong Lowdown: A small place for big living
As China's "Oriental Pearl" or the "Wall Street of Asia", Hong Kong today remains a bustling metropolis of dazzling and unique contrasts.
While much of the city's Western feel and fabric is a legacy of its 150-year colonial history, underneath the surface the city has always been Chinese, just as in nearby Macau.
Nowadays English pubs mix it up with traditional medicine shops, while double decker buses motor past local food markets and dim sum restaurants, all jostling for space with the glittering skyscrapers that tower overhead.
A tiger economy in its own right, the diminutive yet dynamic Hong Kong punches way above its weight in Asian financial circles. Handed back to the Chinese in 1997, the city is still establishing its own identity within legislation laid down according to Deng Xiaoping's famous "one country, two systems", but continues to thrive as a place to conduct business and to trade. Banking, international insurance, advertising, and publishing are among its biggest industries.
Hong Kong is an increasingly popular tourist destination, both for global travelers and wealthy mainland Chinese. Boasting one of the world's best airports (Chek Lap Kok), it's also an important hub in the Chinese diaspora, with global connections to many of the world's cities. While many tourists look on Hong Kong as simply one giant shopping mall, those eager to sample the city's culinary and cultural delights won't be disappointed. Much of the countryside is classified as country park and, although 7 million people are never far away, it's still possible to find pockets of wilderness.
Hong Kong has a subtropical climate with at least one season to match your comfort zone. It enjoys a mild climate from the middle of September to the end of February, while the weather from May to mid-September is rather warm and humid. Most of Hong Kong 's rainfall occurs between May and September, with August the wettest month.
Getting around in Hong Kong is usually pretty simple. The city has a highly developed transportation network, encompassing both public and private transport. Over 90% of daily journeys are on public transport, making it the highest percentage in the world. The Octopus card, a stored value smart card payment system, can be used to pay for fares on almost all railways, buses and ferries, and also for car parks and parking meters.
Two or three days are usually enough for tourists who want to visit Hong Kong's main attractions. Victoria Peak offers the best views over the island; Peak Tower with its famous wok-like architecture stands at the exit of the Peak Tram. The bizarre Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium, the exciting Peak Explorer Motion Simulator, and more leisurely terraces and restaurants are among the favorite stops at this entertainment center. Another popular stop-off is the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum, with lifelike celebrities including local boy made good Jackie Chan.
Fun for all the family can be had at Hong Kong's Ocean Park, one of the best theme parks and aquariums in Asia. Situated along a dramatic rocky coastline on the island's southern shore, the park is divided into two areas: a "lowland" and a "headland", connected by cable car and escalator. Because of the wide range of attractions, Ocean Park is interesting for children and adults alike, and boasts first class facilities.
Off the southerly shore of Hong Kong island, Aberdeen Harbor at night provides beautiful views of hundreds of illuminated trawlers on which fishermen and their families live. The harbor is also home to the Jumbo and Tai Pak Floating Restaurants, iconic dining establishments offering some superb seafood, as well as roast goose, Beijing Duck, changing seasonal dishes and dim sum.
Close to Aberdeen is the town of Stanley, with its famous market. Here browsers can find an interesting array of little shops selling silk garments, sportswear, art, Chinese costume jewelry and souvenirs. A hard morning of shopping is nicely rounded off by a good lunch at one of Stanley's many excellent restaurants, which are the reason that Hong Kong locals also frequent the area.
One of the main reasons people come to Hong Kong is to shop. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, visitors spend more than 50% of their money on shopping. In fact, the city is such a popular shopping destination that many luxury cruise ships dock here longer than they do anywhere else on their tours. As a free port, Hong Kong showcases commodities from all over the world without tariff, and usually accompanied by seasonal sales.
A tram passing The Pawn Tong Lau in Hong Kong
Shopping areas are roughly divided into Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The highlights are Central, North Point, Admiralty and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong Island, and Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, Jordan and Mong Kok in Kowloon. Besides the vast array of products, tourists also enjoy courteous and professional service at reasonable prices, although in some places bargaining is essential.
Together with shopping, dining is one of the things to do in Hong Kong. Half the population dines daily in the city's plethora of eateries, and the quality is matched only by the diversity. In just a few days visitors can take a culinary tour of virtually every major region of China, feasting on Cantonese, Sichuan, Shanghainese, Pekingese and other Chinese specialties. Some restaurants are huge, bustling, family affairs, others are mere holes in the wall, and a few of the trendiest are Shanghai chic, remakes of 1930s salons and opium dens or strikingly modern affairs with sweeping views over the urban landscape.
Traditional Tong Lau building in Hong Kong
- Chek Lap Kok International Airport, off the northern coast of Lantau Island, connects to Central (Hong Kong) and Kowloon stations by the Airport Express train. A cheaper, though slower, option is to use the MTR's Tung Chung Line from Tung Chung Station.
Buses A11 and A12 also run to the airport, which was designed by Sir Norman Foster, the British architect responsible for Beijing Capital Airport's Terminal 3. Chek Lap Kok International Airport has flights to over 140 destinations worldwide and to many other Chinese cities including Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hohhot, Lijiang, Nanning, Shanghai, Wuhan, Qingdao, Urumqi and Xian. Check elong.com for cheap flights.
- Trains T97/98 run between Beijing West Railway Station and Hong Kong every other day, taking approximately 25 hours.
- For cheap Beijing-Hong Kong flights check elong. Tip: A cheap / fast way to get from Beijing to Hong Kong is to fly from Beijing to Shenzhen and then take a coach to Hong Kong. The flight from Beijing to Shenzhen is considered domestic and therefore much cheaper compared with flying to Hong Kong direct.
- Taxis are metered and come in different colors. Red taxis operate on Hong Kong Island; green taxis in the New Territories and blue taxis on Lantau Island.
- There are ferries to Macau and Guangzhou as well as the outlying islands such as Lantau, Lamma and Cheung Chau.