Some Useful Tips for Your First Time Visit to Hong Kong
All Rights Reserved © 2016 Paul Stevens
An Article in the Steve’s Go 2! Series
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Some Useful Tips for Your First Time Visit to Hong Kong
Look, I’m not going to expound on the top 10 things to do in Hong Kong. A simple google search will tell you all that and more. This is a brief free article which should help you make your stay in Hong Kong as enjoyable and successful as possible. We have just spent 5 days there and enjoyed every moment in this wonderland.
Maybe you already have an idea of how Hong Kong is laid out, but we went there without first checking and battled a bit at first. Wikipedia gives a good description:
Geography of Hong Kong
“The geography of Hong Kong primarily consists of three main territories: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories.
The name “Hong Kong”, literally meaning “fragrant harbour”, is derived from the area around present-day Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island, where fragrant wood products and fragrant incense were once traded. The narrow body of water separating Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, Victoria Harbour, is one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world. Hong Kong and its 260 territorial islands and peninsulas are in the South China Sea, at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta.
The Kowloon Peninsula to the south of Boundary Street and the New Territories to the north of Hong Kong Island were added to Colonial Hong Kong in 1860 and 1898 respectively. The landscape of Hong Kong is hilly to mountainous with steep slopes. The highest point in the territory is Tai Mo Shan, at a height of 958 metres. Lowlands exist in the north-western part of the New Territories.
Hong Kong is 60 km east of Macau on the opposite side of the Pearl River estuary. It has a land border with Shenzhen to the north. The remaining land is reserved as country parks and nature reserves.”
Best Tine to Visit
If you check on internet it will advise that “Hong Kong has a monsoon-influenced subtropical climate. It is mild for more than half the year. There are mild, relatively dry winters, and hot, humid, and wet summers. The best time to visit Hong Kong is from October to early December, when the weather is sunny, cool, and pleasant.” We visited late November and we got 2 days of sunshine, two overcast days with mild rain, and one day with heavy rain. If possible, try to arrange your trip when the short-term weather forecast shows mainly sunny for the period of your visit. It’s a no brainer that rain will make everything much more difficult and even spoil the day for you and taxis will be hard to get. At least pack small umbrellas so you are prepared. We tried to sight see on the day with heavy rain and it was very taxing, until we escaped into a Chinese restaurant where we enjoyed some Chinese dishes and wine whilst at the same time being sopping wet…
A must do and highlight of course is a visit to Victoria Peak. Hold that visit until you get a sunny day…that is solid advice!
Where To Stay
Right from the get go you need to decide whether you are going to stay on Hong Kong Island or in Kowloon. Assuming this is a special trip and you have a decent budget, on advice from a friend who lived and worked in Hong Kong for 20 years we settled on the The Excelsior hotel on Hong Kong Island, and specifically a room with a full on harbour view. In fact, it was room 1704, for reference purposes. We were very pleased with the room and the best feature was the stunning view of the fragrant harbour. As night descends and the city lights up the view is simply astonishing, a fairy-tale of lights. In fact, this view was so amazing we never had the heart to lower the blinds at night. This is a very friendly 4-star hotel with very helpful concierge staff. You can book a shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel at the time of your booking, or even arrange a limousine if you wish. The concierge staff were beyond helpful and helped us avert a crisis as we had left a bag in the bus containing passports, tickets etc. but they recovered it for us in short time. The hotel has Alfresco dining and live entertainment at ToTT’s on the top floor together with a Roof Terrace, and sports two other restaurants, a cafe, bar, coffee shop, sauna, and steam room. Needless to say, the view from the rooftop restaurant is superb and when on the Roof Terrace you feel you are suspended in a city of space age buildings.
To keep costs under control, there are plenty of restaurants and pubs nearby where you can enjoy a meal and drinks at more affordable prices than those in the Hotel. In fact, step out of the hotel, turn right, cross over Paterson Street, walk a few metres, then there to your right is Food Street, an elegant arcade comprised entirely of small restaurants on both sides of the centre walkway all catering to different themes with tables outside as well. Very useful destination as you are probably tired from a day’s sightseeing and don’t want any hassles in finding a nice place to eat. Tip: try the Angus steak with mashed potato and mustard at Cedele…it’s beyond delicious and I swear I would make the trip back to Hong Kong just to savour it again. Note that some of these restaurants do not have a licence to serve drinks outside in the walkway, so enquire first if you are thirsting for that drink and you prefer to sit outside.
Or, step out of the hotel and turn left, right next door is the World Trade Centre, which offers 5 floors of shopping and several restaurants, offering cuisine at probably half the price of the Excelsior Hotel.
There’s more! A street or two back form the hotel is Lockhart Road. This from Wikipedia: “Also within easy access from the Hotel is Lockhart street. Part of Lockhart Road near its western end is the backbone of one of Hong Kong Island’s two main bar districts, the other being the slightly more upmarket Lan Kwai Fong and Soho area. Once considered primarily a red light district, the area is now much more mixed, with bars, pubs, restaurants and discos. A number of the raunchier bars still remain, their doorways festooned with lightly clothed girls from Thailand and the Philippines. This is the area in which the novel and film The World of Suzie Wong were set.”
Once you’ve done the heavy lifting of sightseeing around Hong Kong head here for some (or a whole lot) of well-deserved drinks!
A highlight of your visit will be our excursion to Victoria Peak. However, of course every tourist to Hong Kong has the same idea in mind. An historic cable tram will take you up to the peak but there are long waiting lines and many tour operators have preference to the lines for their groups. What happens is there is a long queue on the other side of the road to the ticket office and from where the tram departs. Once you have waited out the queue on the one side of the road, then you will be confronted with a further queue on the ticket office side to get in the tram. The three main attractions are the tram ride to and from the Peak, the visit to the sky tower at the Peak and Madame Tussauds at the peak. You can buy you way out of the first queue if you agree to purchase all 3 attractions and there several vendors in front of the queue offering this. If you accept they will escort you across the road to the ticket office to purchase the ticket. The chances are you are going to see all these attractions anyhow, so why not take advantage of the queue-jumping offer…
Come our last day in Hong Kong, what to do? I am personally not one for Theme Parks but it was on the top attractions list so we thought we’d give it a try. In fact, Ocean Park offers one unmissable excursion…a cable car ride to the top of the mountain. As you ascend you get beautiful views of the South China sea, the outlying suburbs, and bays complete with the beaches, and islands some deserted. A view to literally take your breath away and in fact in many respects it was even more magnificent than the view from Victoria Peak. Repeat: not to be missed!
It’s Not Cheap!
Be warned, Hong Kong is not cheap. But it’s a really worthwhile destination on anyone’s bucket list. Interesting and actually beautiful in its own special way. Enjoy!
Here’s a little tip! The Star ferry is a great and cheap way to get to Kowloon and other destinations…the fare from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon is only $2.50. There are machines that dispense tickets which accept cash or a $10 note. When we first attempted to purchase a ticket, we were baffled because the machine accepted our $10 note and supplied the change but didn’t issue a ticket. In fact, when you scoop out your change, there it is, a token as well, which you use to feed a slot through the turn styles to gain access to the ferry! By the way don’t miss the Promenade at Star Ferry Central, this is a great place to view all the activities in the harbour and provides perfect photo opportunities for pictures of the Hong Kong Island skyline…