If you've got time in your schedule, you've just got to take the star ferry across Hong Kong harbour - Hong Kong Island to Kowloon or vice versa.This Hong Kong institution is iconic of Hong Kong's colonial past and deep heritage. The fare can paid by your octopus card and is just pennies. The view is fantastic and leaves from TST terminal and goes straight into the Central business district. The journey takes around 15 minutes so slower than other forms of travel but there is nothing that can beat it for value and experience.
TST terminal and Central ferry terminal
If you're in Hong Kong and you can take two days (or more) off, then travel agents on Nathan Road (Kowloon) can arrange a trip to Beijing (flights, hotel and visa) with 24 hours' notice. It's not so expensive and well worth the effort. Just one or two nights in Beijing are very rewarding.
Bottom of Nathan Road (ferry end) on Kowloon. There are many travel agents.
If staying on Kowloon and arriving later in the evening, or feeling a bit thrown by jet lag and fancy something to do late at night, a walk around Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, the commercial heart of Kowloon is an absoloute must! An amazingly vibrant neon street spectacle as people shop and socialise amongst street stalls and sprawling maze-like malls. Although it is bustling and chaotic it never feels claustrophobic due to the polite and leisurely pace - people stroll around soaking up the atmosphere. The area remains busy sometimes until 2am so it's a must see for any traveller.
Nathan Road - TsimShaTsui, Kowloon
Take the MTR to TsimShaTsui Station - take the Nathan Road exit
The south of Hong Kong Island is a nice place to escape to after spending time walking through the interesting streets of Hong Kong. Sit and enjoy the view of the sea and find the hotel with a hole in it - apparently something to do with the spirit of a dragon! Probably best not to swim in the sea though - I hear it's quite polluted. Get on a bus and take to the top deck for a ride across Hong Kong Island.
A bar in Kowloon to enjoy a drink after work and watch the skyscraper light show on Hong Kong. The bar also owns an old style junk called Aqualuna which takes you through the harbour and is a top place to view the cityscape.
Aqua Spirit at top of 1 Peking Road
If you are bored of the same old faces in the expat world that surrounds Lan Kwai Fung in Hong Kong Island, then why not jump on the star ferry to Kowloon and explore some of the bars facing the harbour. You are more likely to bump into locals and will still be served with a smile, just at a fraction of the cost.
'Ley ho ma?' (That's 'How are you?' in Cantonese) and welcome to Hong Kong. You'll be arriving at Hong Kong International Airport (www.hongkongairport.com), just 25 minutes away from the Hong Kong Island and regular winner of the Best International Airport award. Hong Kong International Airport (IATA Code: HKG) serves as the gateway to this buzzing city or as a hub to further connections to the rest of Asia. Terminal 1 serves as the low-cost terminal and features a full sized cinema as well as the Hong Kong essential - shops. Yes, shopping (along with eating) is the national pastime in Hong Kong with shops staying open until late. Service is generally good (as long as you are spending money) and best of all - Hong Kong is has no sales tax.
Tip 1: Forget the 'duty-free shops' at the airport. The whole of Hong Kong is duty-free so the airport is often the most expensive places to buy your souvenirs. The Hong Kong Airport Express train offers an efficient way straight to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. Note that Kowloon station is not very well connected to the MTR (the distances are quite large - if carrying a suitcase, you may want to take a taxi from the station).
Practicalities and getting around
As a former British Colony, Hong Kong is a breeze to navigate even for the most novice business traveller. Signs and announcements are typically in three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese and English, although written Mandarin is the same as Cantonese) so as long as you can read English you shouldn't have a problem getting around. Most people in the main business areas also speak English but it's always worthwhile having the address of where you want to go to written down in Chinese, just in case your taxi driver doesn't know the English name for the destination (street names have both English and Chinese names - sometimes they don't correlate and they certainly aren't pronounced the same). The Hong Kong Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar so this is the most common currency of exchange.
Tip 2: If you have spare US Dollars on you, it may be more cost efficient to change USD into HKD as the exchange rate will be fixed. However, given the current weakness of the USD vs GBP, you might want to capture a good rate now. (www.hsbc.com.hk)
Tip 3: Get yourself an Octopus card - accepted as payment on the MTR and public transport systems - buy one with an Airport Express ticket included at the airport (www.octopuscards.com).
Where to stay
Hong Kong benefits from a strong portfolio of hotels which can cater for all tastes and budgets - ranging from the surprising and excellently located YMCA to the pinnacle of luxury - the Peninsula Hong Kong. However, one common denominator can be found across most hotels - service is generally outstanding and standards are higher than those found in North America and Europe. Hong Kong is split across three key areas - New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. New Territories is the area that borders China and is not usually frequented by business travellers and tourists alike. Given the lack of business or tourist interests in this area, I would not recommend staying here. Kowloon is connected to the mainline and features shopping (the national pastime), food (the other national pastime) and business. This area tends to be slightly older than Hong Kong Island but it does benefit from slightly more space (which is hard to come by in Hong Kong) and offers greater value for money.
Tip 4: Always ask the hotel if offers special corporate rates. Most tend to do and you may be able to benefit from a complimentary upgrade or better price.
Kowloon hotel recommendations
YMCA - USD120 per night
Located on Waterloo road right by the Peninsula hotel, this YMCA is unlike any other YMCA in the world. Despite the name, it functions more as a main stream hotel rather than a hostel, offering clean and modern rooms are at great prices. Staff are friendly and down to earth. Location is perfect for exploring all that Kowloon has to offer.
Tip 5: If you want a taste of luxury - why not upgrade to a suite at the YMCA. This could at a cost similar to that of a normal luxury hotel room.
Marco Polo Prince - USD180 per night
Located as part of the huge waterfront (Harbour Plaza) shopping complex, you will never be short of all things to do in this classic Hong Kong institution. This hotel forms part of the Marco Polo chain and you will find other Marco Polo hotels adjacent to this hotel. Well located for shopping and perfect for journeys on the star ferry. Traffic in this area can sometimes be bad which means travelling by car is not ideal.
Peninsula - USD450 per night
Look up luxury in the dictionary and you may find the Peninsula Hong Kong listed. Every whim and care is catered for in this five-star complex. Famed for its old colonial style, high tea still features strongly on the tourist trail. As a guest, you will benefit from access to the first class spa and pool facilities. Try whiling away the day and escaping the rush of the city as you sip cocktails by the pool. Rooms are luxurious as expected and even the smallest detail is catered for.
Hong Kong Island recommendation
Lang Kwai Fong Hotel - USD200 per night
Small but well formed, the Lang Kwai Fong Hotel is actually located about a 10 minute walk from its expat haven namesake but the hotel is close enough to wonder back to after a night out. It is also five minutes away from Hong Kong's Soho district which is famed for its al fresco dining and the outdoor escalator which claims to be the world's only outdoor escalator. Rooms are small but the location is excellent for anyone wanting to stay centrally without the cost.
Lanson Place - USD250 per night
This boutique hotel is the real gem of Hong Kong. Set back from the hub of Causeway Bay, shopping and dining are just moments away. Rooms are well decorated and feature small kitchenettes. Breakfast is generally included in room rates and the hotel staff are very helpful. Rooms feature flat screen TVs and DVD players. The hotel lends out DVDs and books as part of its library. The gym is well equipped and modern.
Four Seasons - USD450 per night
Perfectly located on top of Hong Kong Station (connected to the Airport Express), this bastion of luxury does not disappoint. The rooms are bright and well appointed and can overlook the harbour. Conveniently located by the International Finance Tower, the Four Seasons hotel boasts one of the most convenient locations for business meetings. As a business traveller, you may find it very convenient for your trips in and out of the airport and to meetings.
Where to eat
Hong Kong's streets are filled with places to eat. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can eat for as little as a couple of USD and be very satisfied with the fresh and delightful food. Food halls also offer a convenient and accessible way of finding a quick lunch. Recommended food halls include Pacific Place and the shopping centre attached to Kowloon Tong. Try market stalls (they have been cleaned up post-SARs) for a true experience of local Hong Kong. The one over the road from Soho, Causeway Bay, is the most accessible (although apparently the most expensive according to locals).
What to do
Top ten Hong Kong attractions that won't take too much out time out of your schedule. Estimated time for each is included so that you can squeeze it into your busy schedule.
1. Peak tram - great views of the city travelling up the Peak Tram.
Time required - 2 hours
2. Star ferry - cross the harbour with classic style on board the famous (and fantastically cheap) Star Ferry.
Time required - 20 mins
3. Shopping - shop till you drop at huge shopping malls. Try Pacific Place, Hong Kong Island and Harbour City, Kowloon
Time required - 2 hours
4. Ladies market (Tung Choi Street) - better to browse rather than buy, this market features cheap goods and 'almost authentic' goods.
Time required - 1 hour
5. Stanley market - step away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy this small former fishing town and its market.
Time required - 2 hours
6. Ocean Park - if family are accompanying you, then take them to Ocean Park for some marine-themed fun.
Time required - 5 hours
7. Causeway Bay - best seen at dusk - watch the hip and trendy come out to meet for movies, karaoke and of course food and shopping. Check out the Times Square shopping centre and restaurant complex.
Time required - 2 hours
8. Happy Valley racecourse - check online to see the race timetable. Get yourself a general admission ticket or arrange a box for an experience you can bet on. www.happyvalleyracecourse.com
Time required - 3.5 hours
9. Ride a tram - be taken back to Hong Kong's colonial past whilst riding on these trams that run through Hong Kong island's central district.
Time required - 20 mins
10. High team at the Peninsula - OK, not so much Hong Kong but luxury at its finest. Enjoy fresh pastries in a delightful setting. Reservations recommended.
Time required - 2 hours
The Ming Kee serves the best chilli squid in the world, and the other seafood is good too. Po Toi Island is just off the southside of Hong Kong Island but time has stood still there. Most of its inhabitants are from one lineage (family) group and they specialise in seaweed and other herbal remedies, which they sell from little stalls.
Mainland tourists get brought here in swarms in huge boats from Aberdeen to eat at the Ming Kee but they have left by 1pm. Until peace is restored you can hike around the island, taking in spectacular views of the South China Sea and the islands. On a clear day you can see the islands which lie out to sea from Hong Kong, but were always part of the People's Republic.
It is not easy to get to. The ferry, is an experience in itself, an aging multi-coloured family boat, the husband collects the tickets and the wife pilots the boat. It runs from St Stephen's Pier, Stanley, by St Stephen's beach on Sundays only (it used to go at 11 and 12 and return at 3 and 4 but you would need to check). Otherwise you have to hire a kaido or junk.
For a near-free tour of HK island's major attractions, travel on the upper deck of the old electric tram, from Kennedy Town in the west, through central to Quarry Bay and beyond in the east. You can peel off at Wan Chai for Happy Valley and the horse races.
Though very slow, you see virtually the whole of HK island and savour its flavour at street level, jumping off wherever you want - each trip is just HK$1-2 (20p). Avoid rush hour. Watch out for pickpockets. Anyone tall should find a seat quick, or face a crick neck all week.
If there's a few of you, hire your own tram, complete with its own bar for a Friday night trawl. Ask the tourist board.
All major HK island MTR stations, just look for the tracks, listen out for the clanking bell
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