Hong Kong skyline at night
Night view from Victoria Peak (Photo credit: skeeze)

Hong Kong Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • Located on China’s southern coast, with a population of around 7 million.
  • Became a British colony following the victory of the United Kingdom over the Qing Dynasty forces in the 1839-1842 Opium War. Occupied briefly by Japan during World War II, Hong Kong was taken back by the British and remained a colony until 1997.
  • One of the leading global financial hubs, Hong Kong is internationally known for its economic/trade freedoms, high quality of life, and superior levels of education.
  • Has the most skyscrapers (1,223) of any city in the world.
  • There is approximately one restaurant for every 600 residents, making Hong Kong one of the highest per-capita concentrations of dining establishments.
  • Nicknames: Pearl of the Orient, Golden Egg, City of Life

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD).
  • Spoken languages: primarily Cantonese. Mandarin and English are widely understood. Note: Hong Kong is one of Asia’s most accessible cities, and it is entirely possible to get by with just English (most signs are in English and Chinese).
  • Best time to visit: from March to May for warm, dry weather. The peak season runs from September to December (advance booking recommended for hotels).
  • Arriving via airport: the Airport Express is a high speed train which will get you downtown (to Central Station) in 24 minutes. Tickets are available from the Airport Express booth in the Arrivals Hall – a return ticket costs $200 HKD. A taxi ride to Central will cost around $300 HKD.

WHERE TO STAY

  • Hotels can be found all over Hong Kong, and prices range from affordable to extravagant. Keep in mind that Hong Kong has a very high cost of living, and it is reflected in its accommodation prices.
  • Backpackers will likely find themselves staying on the Kowloon Side, in Mong Kok or Tsim Sha Tsui (where the infamous Chungking Mansions can be found). Those looking for more upscale hotels should look on the Hong Kong Island side, in Wanchai, Causeway Bay, or Central districts.

GETTING AROUND

  • Hong Kong has one of the most advanced and efficient public transport systems in the world, with interconnected subway, bus, tram, train, and ferry networks. If you’re in town for more than 48 hours, consider getting an Octopus Card. The Octopus is a stored-value card available at any MTR (subway) station (and at the airport). It costs just $50 HKD (refundable), and is accepted on all public transport, as well as in convenience stores and some fast food restaurants.
  • HK’s subway and bus systems are extremely efficient, and are the preferred methods by which to get around. The cost of a ride depends on distance traveled, and will rarely exceed $8 HKD (~$1 USD) as long as you are traveling within Hong Kong Island or Kowloon.
  • Taxis are available all over Hong Kong and are clean, efficient, and relatively inexpensive. Fares start at about $20 HKD, and a journey between two points of interest on Hong Kong Island will rarely exceed $60 HKD.
  • There are three types of taxis available in Hong Kong: Red Taxis work the territory of Hong Kong (except Lantau Island and Tung Chung Road), Green Taxis can only service the New Territories, while Blue Taxis only run on Lantau Island.
  • Car rentals are almost unheard of in Hong Kong, and can actually be hard to find. Aside from the cachet value, there is little reason to own your own car in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18, no official last call (most bars close at 2 AM)
  • The main nightlife scene is in Lan Kwai Fong (Central District), where foreigners, locals, and tourists all come together to party. Bars, pubs, dance clubs, restaurants – LKF has it all. For even more options, head up the stairs to SoHo.
  • For a slightly calmer (and grittier) scene, check out the bars and clubs in Wanchai. Also popular with foreigners.
  • The Kowloon side has more affordable options, and is more popular with locals. Check out the bars on Knutsford Terrace in Tsim Sha Tsui, north of Kimberley Road.
  • Note: while alcohol is available all over HK, public intoxication is strongly frowned upon.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Hong Kong is a truly vertical city, and no visit is complete without a look at the city’s most prominent skyscrapers. Of particular architectural significance: HSBC Building (architect: Norman Foster), International Finance Center (architect: César Pelli), Bank of China Tower (architect: I.M. Pei), and the Convention and Exhibition Centre (architect: Larry Oltmanns). An urban photographer’s dream.
  • Check out the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha, the world’s largest Buddha status (34 meters tall and weighing 250 tons), located on Lantau Island. There are two ways to get there, and both will be interesting to the first-time visitor. The fast way is to take the MTR to Tung Chung Station, and then to ride the Ngong Ping 360 cable car all the way to the Monastery. Alternatively, take a turbo ferry from Pier #6 in Central to Mui Wo (Lantau) – from there, take the #2 bus to Ngong Ping.
  • Horse Racing (and gambling) is practically a religion in Hong Kong. If you have never been to the races, check out the Happy Valley Racecourse in Wanchai. This can be an exciting way to spend an afternoon, local style.
  • Check out the Kowloon Walled City Park at the site of the former infamous Walled City. This is an off-the-beaten-path landmark, and makes for great photo opportunities.
  • Visit the Hong Kong Museum of History in Kowloon to learn more about the turbulent and vibrant history of this unique city.
  • Founded in 1888, the Star Ferry is a itself a symbol of city. Take a ride across Victoria Harbor from Wan Chai or Central to the Kowloon Side (or the other way around). A single journey costs just $2 HKD.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Make a trip up to Victoria Peak. To get there, take the Peak Tram from Central, which leaves every 10-15 minutes and costs $40 HKD for a return ticket. Go for a walk around the Peak – there is a trail at the top that offers great views of the city. Note: the real estate on the Peak is the most expensive in the world (price per square foot)!
  • The Ping Shan Heritage Trail in the New Territories can make for an interesting walk, away from the bustle of the city.
  • Go for a long walk through the busy areas of Hong Kong Island – start in Central, and make your way through Admiralty, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay. Don’t be afraid to wander into side streets and markets. Sample the street food! For a different experience, walk through the same area at night (or in the early morning).
  • Walk around Stanley Market and Waterfront. To get there, take the 6, 6X, 6A, or 260 bus from Central – don’t be afraid to ride on the upper deck for a roller-coaster experience!
  • After a short voyage aboard the ferry to Lamma Island, trek through the hilly landscape and discover the charm of the fishing village on the way to Tin Hau Temple.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • The Hong Kong skyline is consistently rated as the top in the world – treat yourself to a postcard view of the city from a high-rise hotel bar or restaurant at night. Go to Tsim Sha Tsui (on the Kowloon side) for the best views of Hong Kong Island.
  • Shopping is considered by many to the city’s true “national sport.” Millions travel to Hong Kong every year for this specific reason – there are amazing deals to be had, especially for clothing, wristwatches, and mass-market electronics (e.g. digital cameras). The main shopping areas are: Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, and Tsim Sha Tsui.
  • Where to find good cheap eats: Hong Kong is a great place to try new foods and cuisines, and there is no shortage of choice. Check out restaurants in Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, and Tsim Sha Tsui for budget options. Don’t miss this chance to try some authentic dim sum, congee and fermented beancurd.
  • Dangerous areas: Hong Kong is one of the world’s safest cities, and it is highly unlikely that anything will happen to you (even at night). In any case, you should always keep an eye out for pickpockets in areas frequented by foreigners. Nathan Road is known for pickpockets and scam artists.

RECOMMENDED HONG KONG GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days


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Hong Kong Travel Guide was last modified: September 22nd, 2016 by Nick
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