#1 - I love the crosswalks in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon! Not only are the pedestrian signals equipped with the normal lights to indicate whether to walk or not, but also a "clicking device" that gives you a clear auditory signal of when to cross. A slow click with medium-long pauses in between basically means "don’t walk," while a rapid click means it’s safe to cross. The clicking starts off very fast, gradually slowing down until it’s time to hold back. Does it get any more high-tech than this? CLICKING CROSSWALKS!?
#2 - Wellcome rules the Hong Kong grocery store world like the Detroit Red Wings have dominated the NHL since the mid-‘90s. There isn’t a flashier (if a grocery store can really be flashy), more interesting grocery to browse anywhere in the island. No matter where you’re staying, there’s sure to be one nearby. We liked the large outpost near Queen Victoria Park the best, though there was one in Wan Chai that had some lovely lucky cat pillows for something like HK$15. This is a great place for stocking up for your hotel/hostel—noodles, tapioca and coconut drinks, alcohol, snacks. . .even disposable underwear!
#3 - Make sure you sample all the different modes of public transit in Hong Kong/Kowloon. Take a ride on the efficient subway system (and don’t forget to stand to the right on escalators in the station), catch a bus that runs on the easy-to-understand routes, and take an exhilarating, scenic ride in a tram for only HK$2. Next to a trip across the bay on the famous Star Ferry, the tram comes with Mr. Wonka’s highest seal of approval. And now, to reaffirm that last statement in the dorkiest way possible—trust me, my word is bond, yo!
#4 - There are local bakeries everywhere–these are the best spots to grab your breakfast. There was this little spot up the street from the Newton Hotel that baked the freshest rolls every morning, all priced at between HK$2 and $5. Coconut rolls, sweet rolls, hazelnut rolls—one wing of Homer Simpson’s dream sweets factory, basically. The nice thing, though, was that I didn’t feel all nasty and gluttonous after eating these—the rolls were actually pretty light. We found that this was a pretty sufficient breakfast when combined with a cappuccino or something like that (god, that sounds so square).
#5 - Try to schedule an entire weekend for your trip. The first full day we had to walk around the city was Saturday, and it was an incredibly jolting, positive experience. The side streets were filled with stands selling fresh produce, seafood, and various knick-knacks. I was hoping it would be like this every day, but apparently these markets in central Hong Kong only run on Saturday, at least during our visit in late January/early February. Sitting clear in my memory is a bizarre fish that had fallen out of its bucket at one of the stands, and was hopelessly flopping like the fish at the end of the Faith No More "Epic" video. Besides the market, on Sunday afternoons, local women gather on the piers surrounding the Star Ferry entrance to talk, play cards, and otherwise get away from the men. I really enjoyed seeing this unique, seemingly recurring tradition.
#6 - Allow two full afternoons for exploring street markets. Check out the entries in my journal for specifics on the multitude of markets that are sprinkled throughout Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The bargains are just incredible, and the selection runs the gamut from produce to Thai silk to designer watches and handbags. I’m sure a lot of this stuff came right out the back door of a factory—I’m equally sure a lot of it is imitation. Either way, that’s not for you to worry about. It’s so much fun to walk through these markets and check out everything. I never thought the markets I found in Berlin could be topped, but this scene in Hong Kong was just insane. I’d come back to Hong Kong just to revisit these locales again.
#7 - Don’t believe the hype—Hong Kong isn’t as expensive as advertised. You can start keeping costs down by visiting during the winter, which isn’t very cold at all. We arrived during the last week in January to perfect temperatures, and didn’t hit any rain. You don’t want to come during the balmy summer months anyway—I can imagine it getting quite uncomfortable. Our package trip for 5 nights’ hotel, taxes, airport transfers, and airfare came out to just $650 from go-today.com. Besides that, grocery stores, restaurants, public transit, shopping, just about everything was incredibly cheap. The only thing that was overly expensive was alcoholic drinks in bars, with prices that rivaled even those in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, you can spend as much money as you want here, but that can be said about any major city.
#8 - Carry around an easy-to-read, laminated map with you. My thoughtful mom hooked me up with a great map before my trip that we took with us everywhere we went. I’m not one to stand on the corner and squint at maps, looking like a bewildered tourist, but it’s easy to get turned around in these topsy-turvy streets, and having a map made it easy to keep our bearings. Try to find one that has landmarks and streets clearly indicated—Streetwise is the brand I used. It’s also advisable to keep your guidebook with you for quick address reference and restaurant/bar suggestions.
#9 - Leave at least one day for exploring outside of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. We would have liked to check out the Portuguese colony of Macau, but with only a few full days, we just didn’t have enough time. We took a ferry to Lantau, riding the #21 bus up to Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha. This is a beautiful island, and it broke my heart knowing corporate conglomerate Disney is building a theme park out there (thankfully, far away from the monastery). You can also take short excursions to Cheung Chau, Lamma, Peng Chau, Po Toi, and Tap Mun Chau.
#10 - Do your research before you go, and watch some movies filmed in Hong Kong when you get back. It really helped to have a loosely prioritized list of sights, areas, and markets we wanted to check out, especially since we had less than a week to visit. We also picked up on everyday customs, learned a few basic phrases in Chinese, and generally prepared ourselves as much as we could. This probably seems like common sense to most, but I have friends who barely read up on foreign destinations before they visit. It was nice, too, to see the streets of Hong Kong in films like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels after just being there a few days earlier.