07 September 2009
Hong Kong - Biggest, Longest, Tallest
Our plane lands and rolls slowly into the gate. The doors open and instantly the heavy, moist Asian air sweeps into the cabin. Welcome to Asia. Welcome to Hong Kong, land of biggest, longest and tallest. The biggest seated Buddha in the world. The longest single suspension bridge in the world. The tallest suspended SkyCar in the world. Pair these with the world’s most impressive skyline and you know you’ve officially arrived in the gateway to Asia, where east meets west in a brilliant show of designer brands, burger joints, hawkers and neon signs. There is really no other place like it. No doubt, the more than 100 years of British influence can be felt in the food, the manners and the attitudes. Still, Hong Kong remains a distinctly Asian city, where walking just a few blocks takes you from glittering skyscrapers to slowly eroding residential high-rise towers.
The Lay of the Land
Hong Kong is a collection of islands surrounding the main hub of Hong Kong Island (both the business and residential center and very up-market), which flows brilliantly into the mainland across Victoria Harbor. Mainland Hong Kong begins with Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui (the glittering, refined yet rough seafront area full of cheap food, markets and neon) and leads north into the New Territories - Hong Kong’s idea of a “suburb.” From there, you’re just steps away from mainland China.
The Must-Sees and Must-Dos
Take in the world’s most gorgeous skyline at every opportunity. It is awe-inspiring and simply fantastic. The best ways to do so:
Watch the nightly laser and light show from the Avenue of the Stars in Kowloon. It’s cheesy, kitschy and brilliant.
Ride the Star Ferry across the harbor. At 30 cents a ride it is also the cheapest way to travel between the mainland and Hong Kong island.
Have a drink at Felix Bar on the 28th floor of the Peninsula Hotel. It’s probably the most expensive cocktail in Hong Kong at $18 but the views are unmatched. Be sure to use the restroom. It’s unbelievable.
Wander the infinite number of markets that seem to carry you back in time (except the night market). Wandering is definitely the best way to take in the city.
Kowloon Markets: The Jade Market, the Bird Market, the Goldfish Market, the Flower Market and the Night Market (the only one that doesn’t completely explain itself in the name. Expect the usual brick-a-brac, food, “Goach” bags and “Lasoste” shirts).
Hong Kong Island Markets: The Western Market, the Ginseng & Bird’s Nest Market, the Herbal Medicine Market, the Dried Seafood Market and the Hollywood Road Antiques Market.
NOTE: All markets close at 5pm except the night market, which is open from 4pm to midnight. It really doesn’t get going until 9 or 10.
Kung Fu in Kowloon Park. If your visit includes a Sunday, spend Sunday afternoon at the start of Sculpture walk in Kowloon Park, where throngs of people show up to show off thier Kung Fu skills.
Man Mo Temple. Just off Hollywood Road on Hong Kong Island, Man Mo Temple was the first on the island and is filled with literally hundreds of enormous incense coils that both smell lovely and make for some excellent pictures.
Lantau Island. Large than Hong Kong island but with just 50,000 residents, Lantau is covered in tropical forests and surrounded by brilliant sandy beaches. Take the subway to the Sky Car and ride it up to the Tian Tin Buddha - the world’s largest seated Buddha. Opt for the bus to one of Lantau’s gorgeous beaches then take the ferry back to Central Pier from there. An excellent day trip.
Lamma Island. No cars, delicious seafood and an otherworldy, “I’ve fallen off the face of the earth” feel makes Lamma a must-see. Take the $2 ferry from Central Pier to Yung She Wan. Walk along the island’s only “road” and stop off at Hung Shing Beach and Lo So Shing Beach before digging into fresh seafood at the island’s other village - Sok Kwu Wan. Return to Central Pier from Sok Kwu Wan for another $2 at sunset, if you can get the timing right. An absolute must-do.
The Crash Pad
Accommodation ranges widely, as does price. Budget at least $20 a night per person, even for budget hostels. If you can afford it, a stay at The Peninsula is unmatched in Hong Kong and will run about $500 a night. The usual suspects - Sheraton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, etc. all have a Hong Kong branch. A more affordable option - and arguably the cleanest Guesthouse in Asia - if not the world - is Cosmic Guesthouse, in Mirador Mansion. They’ve also got the world’s most intense showers. Most accommodations are clustered in Tsim Sha Tsui, which is just steps from both the subway and the Star Ferry. Recommended:
Cosmic Guesthouse - Mirador Mansion, 12th Floor, 54-64 Nathan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. (852)-2369-6669, www.cosmicguesthouse.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, around $20 per person per night for a private room.
The world is your Oyster in Hong Kong. The Chinese food is usually fast and furious and does not compare at all to food on mainland China. Western chains and everywhere but beware - even cheap options aren’t all that cheap.
Tsui Wah Restaurant (84-86 Des Voeux Rd, Central, HK (Near Lan Kwai Fong) Totally Cantonese - fast, easy and pretty greasy. Try this branch near Lan Kwai Fong. It’s open all night, if you happen to be out all night. $5 per person.
Taj Mahal (3rd Floor, Chung King Mansion, Tsim Sha Tsui, 36 Nathan Road, (852)-2722-5454) The touts in Chung King Mansion all claim to be “the best Indian food in Hong Kong.” Taj Mahal comes close. Just tell the security guard which restaurant you want and he’ll hand you over to the appropriate escort. $9 USD per person for mains, rice, bread and a drink.
Smrat Pure Veg (5th Floor, Chung King Mansion, Tsim Sha Tsui, 36 Nathan Road (852)-2369-5762) My Top Pick In Hong Kong. Smrat Pure Veg was last year’s champion for best meal in Chung King Mansion. While all veg may turn some off, there is more than enough choice to make even the biggest carnivore happy. Try the Challa Masala. It’s divine. $9 USD per person for mains, rice, bread and a drink.
Just Salad (SOHO, Hong Kong Island - Mid-levels escalators, Gage Street exit) They serve wraps too at this concept restaurant that mirrors the likes of Chop’d in the USA. Fresh, delicious and oddly refreshing on a hot Hong Kong day. A bit pricey though (but so is everything in Hong Kong - for Asia). $8 USD for a salad.
Kaiser’s Deli (Central Pier, Honk Kong Island). The daily special sandwich is just $3 USD. Bountiful toppings and a wide selection make this the perfect place to pack a lunch before heading to one of the islands. 7 Eleven just next store mean you can stock up on water and Gatorade as well. $3 USD for the special, $5 USD for everything else.
Burger Box (Central Pier, Honk Kong Island). Delicious burgers to go literally IN a box. Sort-of adorable. $7 for a gourmet burger and fries.
Gourmet Burger Place (SOHO, Hong Kong Island - Mid-levels escalators, Gage Street exit). Just a big western burger and fries. Fancy burgers seem to be a global trend at the minute. $7 USD for a burger.
Thai Paradise (SOHO, Hong Kong Island - Mid-levels escalators, Gage Street exit) The usual Thai fare dished up alongside an enormous window that offers excellent escalator people-watching. $9 USD for Pad Thai and prices go up from there. Beer $4 USD.
Bits & Bobs
7 Eleven (Everywhere) A good place to stock up on water and Gatorade to keep fluid and energy levels up. $1.50 USD for two 1-liter bottles seems to be the ongoing special. A Gatorade, however, will set you back $2 USD for just one bottle.
Hong Kong has three main restaurant, bar and club districts on the main island - SOHO (classy dinner), Lan Kwai Fong (slightly less classy food and drinks) and Wan Chai (the least classy, but more affordable of the three). While the districts look similar to a giant frat party at Ohio State, it’s best to just mosey around until you find somewhere that suits you. Some favorites:
Soho Corner (43 Staunton Street, SOHO, Central, HK) A laid back crown and wide-open bar that pours out into the street even early into the night. Drinks range from $4 USD on up to $10 USD.
Lan Kwai Fong
Agave (33 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong) A serious tequila bar with more than 100 varieties in stock. Margaritas start at $8 USD. Try the Long Island Iced Tea ($12 USD). It moves the night right along.
D26 (26 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong) More laid back for Lan Kwai Fong, it’s a good place to learn Chinese dice while sipping on wildly strong cocktails, which run about $10 USD.
The Cavern (D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong) Live music rocks all night long, as does the impressive happy hour. $4 USD for beer and mixed drinks.
Club 97 (97 Lan Kwai Fong, LKF, Central, Hong Kong Island) - A small but air-conditioned, candle-lit lounge with a dance floor where you’ll know doubt hear the latest Britney and Lady Gaga tracks pouring out into the street. Beer $5, Cocktails $12.
Several of the above have a branch in Wan Chai. The crowd tends to be more Asian than foreigner, which arguably makes for a more local evening. Definitely a great place to wander any night of the week.
The Tips and Tricks
Pick up the excellent free guidebooks at either the airport or any tourist information booth. The “Sights” and “Walking Tours” pamphlets are excellent.
If you’re looking for electronics, know that while you’ll pay a little less at one of the many streetside vendors, you likely won’t get a warranty or much information. Broadway Electronics (all over the city) have great prices, a great selection and excellent service.
If you arrive by plane, opt for the bus into the city over the train. With wait time and transfer hassles, the bus ends up taking just 10 minutes longer for a third of the price ($4).
If you’re after the subway closes (between midnight and 1am) you’ll have to get a taxi home. Different colors go with different parts of the city - Red for Hong Kong island, green for Kowloon and blue for Lantau island.