Visiting Hong Kong can be an outstanding experience for anyone - even those of us who do not speak the language and are not sure what Chinese language is spoken in Hong Kong. I highly recommend Hong Kong and Asia to anyone who is interested in travel and cultural rich experiences - especially if you like big city travel. Hong Kong is made up of three "regions" - two of which I recommend that you explore, and the third is more for the locals. There are 26 islands that make up Hong Kong, but usually when we refer to Hong Kong, we are talking about "Hong Kong Island" - or the main metropolitan city. This is the Hong Kong of the pictures and movies with which we are all so familiar. Tall sky-scrapers. People and cars on the streets day and night. Hustle and bustle. The second part of Hong Kong that is very visitor friendly is Kowloon (rhymes with "Saloon"). Both are must see parts of the island.
The first thing that you should know about Hong Kong is that there is a train that runs from the airport to the heart of Hong Kong Island every 10-15 minutes. It is the cheapest and by far the fastest way to get to Hong Kong (or Kowloon). You will have to take a taxi to your hotel, but chances are that it will be very cheap compared to getting a taxi from the airport. Save time and money here. While Hong Kong is distinctly Chinese, and the local language is the most difficult and the rarest of the Chinese dialects (Cantonese), many people speak English and English is widely spoken in businesses and most restaurants. Hong Kong is a very international city, and you will not stand out in a crowd unless you choose to stand out.
Even in the taxi’s you can expect English to be well understood, though it does not hurt to have translations to get back to your hotel (see my journal entry 1 concerning translation challenges in China). There are a broad array of hotels in Hong Kong - most are expensive. Most of the action on the Island is near the Central Business District, so if you are looking to stay central to the city, find a hotel here. If you are looking for a cheaper hotel, don’t go too close to the edges of the island, as you will pay the price many times over in taxi fees and time. Make plans at night to have evening drinks in some of the very tall hotels that face the Hong Kong harbor (this is a good thing in Hong Kong Island or Kowloon). The Hong Kong harbor is one of the most beautiful sights in the world at night, and these hotels are some of the most lavishly designed hotels that you will ever set foot inside.
Shen Zhen, China on the train. If you are really a bargain shopper, this is a day trip that you don’t want to miss. Take the train (talk to your concierge). Cross the boarder at the end of the train line (about a 35 minute ride on the express train), and the first large building that you walk through to get into the city’s edge is a fantastic vendor’s market where 500 vendors sell their goods from all over China. Silk. Pearls. Electronics. Clothing. Knock off brand purses. Knock off watches and pens that you can buy for $5-15 each (not that I am advocating brand knock-offs—but if this is something that interests you, this is where you want to go). Paintings. Artwork. You name it, and if people buy it in China, you have a good chance of finding it in Shen Zhen, China.
Kowloon shopping and browsing. There are many interesting things to see, taste and experience in Kowloon. Let me just point out a couple that will fascinate the average Joe (me). If you are looking for a Chinese dress, silk, night markets, or a new suit—you will want to go to Kowloon. Don’t be afraid of being approached on the street by a vendor who will lead you to his shop. This is common practice. One other "Don’t miss" attraction in Kowloon is the Bird Market. This is only open during the day (maybe until around 5 or 6pm), so go early, and you will see birds, birds, birds and bird lovers. This is an open market with all kinds of exotic animals (two legged variety and the two legged variety). Go check this unique street out.
If you find yourself in Kowloon at the end of the day, have a drink at the Felix Bar in the Peninsula Hotel. This bar is known throughout the region for its view, its upscale atmospheres and its "loo" (WC). The men's WC is filled with exotic marble architecture and a breath-taking view of the city from the urinal. Yep - That's right. One of a kind. (Check with your concierge about the dress code).
Stanley Market. The other place that you want to make a half day or full day trip out of is the Stanley Market. Located on the back side of the island, you can get there via bus or taxi in about 30 minutes. If you don’t have time to go to Shen Zhen, you will find many of the same things here - well, maybe 40% of the same things. But, this is a wonderful place to shop for art, silk, clothes, etc.
Lantau Island. This is one of the only other occupied islands among the Hong Kong islands. Lantau is known for one major site—the monastery with the largest sitting bronze Buda. I don’t know if there are a lot of Buda’s in this category or not, but that is not the point. This Buda can be seen for miles away, which is a good thing because it takes hours to reach it. First you have to take a boat to the island, and then you have to take a bus to the monastery. When all is said and done, it is definitely worth the trip. And you can eat here as well. I recommend spending the money to eat the best fair here. You will not be able to order from a menu. Food will be brought to you, and you will not be disappointed. First class. Take your camera for this one, because, like most of Hong Kong, you will want the be able to tell your friends about the highlights of your trip and you will have more than a few.
The Peak. A great deal has been written about The Peak, so just let me say that you should take the tram up the mountain and see the city from the highest point on the island. It is a view that you would give your little finger to wake up to each morning (but don’t do that).
Mid Levels Escalators. Speaking of heights—this is a unique site in all of the world. An outside Escalator that stretches from more than a mile up the side of Central Business District, into SOHO and half way up into Mid-Levels. This is where the more affluent residents live, and this is also very close to Lan Kwai Fong bar, restaurant and social quarters. Don’t miss this unique site.
Lan Kwai Fong. If you want Hong Kong night life, this is the place. Every expatriate will spend at least one night a week here (maybe more) and during holidays there is not 1 square meter that is not covered with 4 patrons. If you like crowds, go here. If you don’t like crowds, avoid LKF, especially during holidays (International Holidays celebrated here).
Hong Kong tourism has a great website with lots of local information. I recommend visiting: www.discoverhongkong.com.