Long known as the gateway to the mysteries and treasures of the Orient, Hong Kong is a city built on contrasts: incense-filled temples set among glass and steel skyscrapers; elderly Chinese people laboring behind pushcarts as young executives drive by in luxury vehicles; street-market vendors selling chicken parts, snakes and squid just blocks away from some of the biggest malls in the Asia.
A British colony until 1997, Hong Kong was and continues to be influenced by Western culture as much as the East.
These contrasts make Hong Kong, a Chinese city with a powerful British heritage, a special place to visit.
Hong Kong has probably one of the most developed public transportation systems in the world. You can travel by bus, train, taxi, subway, ferry, even by helicopter if your wallet allows.
Rather than taking the usual mode of transportation, like taxi or bus, something you can find anywhere else in the world, see the city from the top deck of a rattling, clanking old “ding-ding” (as Hongkongers call them, a.k.a. trams). First introduced in 1904, it is one of the earliest forms of public transport in Hong Kong, and today, more than 240,000 residents continue to commute by tram.
The ride is an unequalled bargain at just $2 HKD (about 25 cents). Trams run frequently, so if the first one is too crowded, just wait for the next to ensure you get that all-important front seat upstairs. www.hktramways.com
Hong Kong is known for its wide selections of restaurants. You don’t have to look far to satisfy your palate. You can find anything from Indian cuisine, to Swiss, to Mexican, to Vietnamese. You name it, Hong Kong probably has at least 10 restaurants serving that specific cuisine.
Everyone should try a dim sum meal at least once when visiting Hong Kong. It’s eaten primarily for breakfast or lunch, or as an afternoon snack with tea. Most restaurants that offer dim sum is priced by the basket, and each basket usually contains two to four items; the average price is about HK$20 to HK$30 (about $2.60 to $3.85).
However, for only $128 HKD (about $17 USD) you can treat yourself to an all-you-can-eat dim sum lunch at one of Hong Kong’s most exclusive restaurant/lounge/nightclub, Dragon-I. This chic venue has been jam-packed with models, celebrities, and anybody who’s anybody, since they first opened in 2004. Its interior is bathed in red from the glow of the silky hanging lanterns, with touches of black and white, giving it that contrasting appeal that is so uniquely Hong Kong. There’s also an outdoor patio, decorated with huge birdcages, which provide the crowds a place to catch their breath after throwing their bodies into the pounding music spun either by their local DJ or internationally known guest DJs. While at night, this place becomes a hangout for the beautiful people, during the day, it’s a rather peaceful hideaway for an enjoyable lunch in the city. 60 Wyndham St., The Centrium, Central; www.dragon-i.com.hk
If you’re planning a night on the town, start at Feather Boa. Located in the SoHo district, it truly serves the best strawberry daiquiris in all of Hong Kong (they’re huge and rimmed with chocolate powder!). The trick is knowing how to find this place (bring a local with you): Hidden behind an iron cast fence and thick drapes concealing the windows, Feather Boa is easily missed. But once inside, be ready to be transported to a time when chandeliers hung from the ceiling; huge, floral furniture took over most of the floor, and Renaissance oil paintings adorned the walls. It’s definitely not a place for people concerned about their personal space, as it very small, but a great spot to meet the friendly locals.
If it’s 3 a.m. and you’re craving comfort food, head to Tsui Wah in Central, a popular restaurant among both Chinese and Westerners in the style of a cha chan teng (tea house). Known for its extensive and affordable menu, patrons can sample all sorts of Chinese homestyle food, including stir fries, noodles and curry dishes. This restaurant is perfect for something quick, affordable and filling, and is open late into the night. G/F 15-19 Wellington Street, Central
Learn more about Hong Kong’s past and present in: A “Belonger” Looks Back at Hong Kong As Its Capitalist Heart Beats On.
KUNG FU HONG KONG
With Hong Kong being part of China, one is quick to associate the art of Kung Fu with the city. Chinese martial arts have been widely popularized through the Hong Kong films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Kung Fu has always been a very popular and widespread martial art, but in recent years, there has been a rejuvenation, particularly in the movie industry that releases hundreds of martial art films a year.
To check out some of Hong Kong’s newest action movies, try the Director’s Club cinema, located in Taikoo Shing. With only two spacious theater houses, this cinema will give you an experience like no other. Before entering the movie room, treat yourself to food and a selection of wines in the lounge. Then move into the screening room and let yourself sink into one of their 32 luxurious seats that even allow you to recline. While the ticket price may be quite steep, $175 HKD for one ($23 USD), $50 HKD is allocated to your catering voucher, which gets you free flow of soft drinks, tea, coffee, and popcorn and even an extra hot dog. www.directorsclub.com.hk
If you’re not content watching kung fu on the big screen, check out the real deal in Kowloon Park. Sunday Kung Fu Corner is a weekly event from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. where performers get together to demonstrate their martial arts skills, along with cultural ceremonies such as traditional Chinese drumming and costumed dancers. The shows put on by contemporary masters and their respective students are both beautiful and educational to watch. Best of all, after the show, members of the crowd can try their skills and learn some tips from accomplished instructors.
Interested in learning kung fu or other martial arts from a real master … and getting a great vacation, too? Don’t miss Fighting For Your Vacation: Martial Arts Travel.
SHOPPING A LA HONG KONG
Visitors from all over the world make their way to this city to find great quality items at bargain prices. Hong Kong’s well-designed shopping mega-malls cater to every taste and budget and provide an amazing contrast to the bustling open-air markets nestled among the towering skyscrapers. Take a day to explore the various street markets Hong Kong has to offer. You’d be surprised at what you can find.
To see what young Hong Kong is wearing today, head to Granville Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. Along this street you will find store after store selling clothes at bargain prices. Among those are also designer cast-offs or sample goods, which are a fraction of the retail price and with only minor or no apparent defects. We’re talking shoes, handbags, and accessories in all shapes, colors and sizes—for perspective, you’ll probably spend no more than $100 HKD (around $13) on a high-quality shirt.
More shopping ideas: Suzy Gershman’s Postcard from Hong Kong: Spas, Shopping & Salon de Ning.
For more of a cultural shopping experience, try “antiques street,” better known as Hollywood Road on Hong Kong Island. It’s a brisk 10-minute walk uphill from the Central district. This street and the adjoining streets are lined with shops stocked with vintage Oriental wares. You can find anything from Chinese carpets, to furniture, to sculpture, to Ming vases in brilliant colors, Chinese scrolls, or traditional studio furnishings such as early jades, inkstones, brushes and brush pots carved from tree roots.
You can also find non-Chinese goods as well, such as Khmer bronzes, Japanese lacquer tables and stacks of Korean ceramics and jade jewelry. It’s a great place to find unique items with an authentic flair….that said, it is China, which is known for fake merchandise. Get some tips in The Do’s and Don’ts for Travel Antiquing.
Though somewhat on the brochure, Hong Kong’s specialty markets are entirely unique to this city and favorite gathering spots for locals. Head over to the Bird Market in Mong Kok and see birds of all shapes and sizes. Other fascinating attractions include the various nutritious insects used as food for the birds, as well as the intricately designed cages that could fit anything from a mouse to a large dog. Many elderly locals even show up with their own birds in ornately carved cages, strolling up and down the street, showing off their feathered friends.
Not far from the Bird Market is the Flower Market. Located on Tung Choi Street, flowers in all the colors you can imagine are lined up in buckets that neatly cover half the pavement. It is incredible to see the fantastic range of flowers and plants all located in one area—from the ordinary but beautiful tulips and daisies, to the exotic birds of paradise and orchids. You’d be surprised as to how many flowers and plants there are you haven’t even seen yet.
And for a quirky experience, visit the Goldfish Market located in Prince Edward. This place resembles a huge aquarium in which tank after tank of differing sizes line up along the street featuring all kinds of fish.
Pick and choose among bright fish of all kinds swimming in the tanks or in oxygen-inflated bags on stands that jut out onto the pavement. True to its name, there is a great variety of goldfish breeds as well as other freshwater and saltwater species. Other items being sold are terrapin snails, frogs, crabs and turtles.
Not exactly a souvenir you want to carry home on the plane, but it’s well-worth a visit.
By Alexandra Seitz for PeterGreenberg.com.
For an even more intimate look at Hong Kong, don’t miss A “Belonger” Looks Back at Hong Kong As Its Capitalist Heart Beats On.
More shopping ideas: Suzy Gershman’s Postcard from Hong Kong: Spas, Shopping & Salon de Ning.
Just passing through? What To Do On a Long Layover in Hong Kong.
Don’t miss the rest of our Off the Brochure Travel Guide series:
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