No matter how many times you have seen it depicted, read the statistics, heard of its growth, the sight of Hong Kong comes as a tangible shock to the first-time visitor.
Its skyline of skyscrapers is as massive as Manhattan's—modern, gleaming, and vast—but crammed into the narrowest of space between a choppy sea and a rocky mountain chain. Its harbor and shipping lane, crisscrossed by oddly shaped sampans and Chinese junks with batlike sails, has a beauty that compares with no other on earth.
Its population of six-million Chinese is almost as large as New York's, but in a quarter of the land area, perhaps the highest-density metropolis in all the world.
This is the quintessential Chinese city and capital of Chinese culture, vibrant and dynamic, bursting with life and vitality. Here are shops with the most exotic of foods; storekeepers bantering with their customers; windows displaying hand-carved dragons and Buddhas of jade, teak, and silver; open-to-the-street outlets of herbal medicines prescribed with apparent success for centuries; signs of acupuncturists and necromancers; people living on boats (though in much reduced numbers lately) in Aberdeen harbor; temples with great open fires and incense; multitudes of restaurants with joyful, inventive dishes (one, recently sampled, is "beggar's chicken," an entire fowl encased in fire-hardened mud, to be cracked away and consumed).
And everywhere: crowds, crowds, crowds.
Apart from the ubiquitous factory lofts producing massive amounts of the world's apparel and electronics, the chief industry of Hong Kong is banking and finance, conducted in the world's most advanced buildings. An indispensable visit is to I.M. Pei's Bank of Hong Kong and Shanghai in the center of the main business district, which breaks every architectural rule and points to the future. Because security guards stand near the elevator exits on the column-lacking, largely open floors at every story, it's important to conduct your visit properly by asking on the third floor for a pass that will enable you to wander freely about.
Shopping & Eating
The chief recent additions to the commerce of Hong Kong are ultra-modernistic, in-city shopping centers (of which the New World Center near the Regent Hotel, on Kowloon side, is an example) selling wares of the world's most famous couturiers and other brand-name manufacturers. Their prices are as steep as anywhere, and they are not the place to buy your custom-made suits and dresses in Hong Kong. In fact, very few of the ground-floor, plate-glass-window stores of Hong Kong are any longer the best source of bargains.
Rather, the smart tourist uses recommendations of the tailors found in tiny workrooms on the upper floors of lower-category office buildings. You obtain these addresses from residents of Hong Kong. You wait until you've encountered an English-speaking person of your own age and outlook--in a restaurant, a hotel, on a bus--and ask them for the identity of the tailor they use, or of whom they know.
By this method I was sent to the eighth floor premises of two elderly gentlemen who proceeded in three days and three fittings to make the finest suit I now own, for a total of $310, including the (high quality) cloth. Roberta bought her own custom-made suit of pure silk, with three complementary blouses (all custom-fitted) and an additional skirt, for all of $190. Though Hong Kong tailors will no longer produce custom clothing overnight, as they were once willing to do, two or three days are nevertheless sufficient for the finest work.
Another key Hong Kong visit is to the floating Jumbo restaurant in Aberdeen Harbor, reached by a free ferry service. Though everyone in Hong Kong will warn you away from this strictly touristic experience, don't listen to them; their advice is based on circumstances of several years ago. Warned by the Hong Kong tourist authorities to upgrade their food and service, the owners of Jumbo proceeded to make major improvements. On my own two recent visits, the food was among the finest I've had in any Chinese restaurant, and the service at least adequate.
Generally in Hong Kong, the more exotic and unfamiliar the dish, the better it is. Order the unfathomable courses at Jumbo, and you'll dine magnificently, often for as little as $8 a person. Afterward, from a landing two hundred yards away, a privately hired, motorized junk for a half-hour cruise of Aberdeen harbor and its boat dwellers comes to $8, including a tip to the elderly, water-wise woman who expertly steers you in and about the parked ships.
Even in the harbor and among its desperately poor people, the vitality of the Chinese shines through. As they squat on their haunches on the slanting decks to consume bowls of steaming rice and fish, their chopsticks clicking, people chatter excitedly, gossip, and laugh.
A summing up: Hong Kong is at once the best place on earth to go shopping and a gastronomic heaven, with outstanding Chinese food of every province and better than you'll find in China itself. The beauty of Hong Kong's setting is alone worth the trip, but it's the excitement of daily life here that most warrants a visit, as you see throngs of former refugees mingling with old-line Hong Kong Chinese, the remnants of the British ruling classes, and thousands of young entrepreneurs (from America, Europe, Japan, and the rest of Asia), who have turned this into a New York of the East, but a New York that is clean, orderly, and virtually crime-free. How it will survive the transfer to a far more authoritarian state remains to be seen.
Orientation & Getting Around
Arriving at Hong Kong Airport, you can either go to the Hotel Transport Hall to be picked up by your hotel (if advance arrangements have been made), or take an Airbus connection to most major hotels for a nominal sum (the equivalent of about US$2 and you must have the exact local fare, so ask at bus stop after you get your Hong Kong dollars) or a taxi averaging US$7 to Tsim Sha Tsui (where most of our hotel selections are located) or US$15 to Hong Kong Island.
Once settled in, you need to know that (1) everything is either on the Island (sometimes called, for short, the Hong Kong side) or on the Mainland (usually called Kowloon); and that public transportation here is superb. You needn't ever take a cab unless you're carrying large bundles. Rely on the three subway lines, the ever-shuttling Star Ferry between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, or the extensive bus system, which features signs in English as well as Chinese. Keep your ticket in order to exit.
The subway line you'll probably use most is the Tsuen Wan (red) line, running down the Kowloon peninsula of Tsim Sha Tsui, under the harbor, and to Hong Kong Island. The second line you're likely to use is the MTR Island line (blue), which runs east and west along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island and includes the tourist-popular stops of Central, Admiralty, Tin Hau, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay, among others. A third line (the MTR Kwun Tong or green line) runs from the island over to an area east and north of Tsim Sha Tsui, which you probably won't find of interest.
If you wish to visit the New Territories or take a day-trip to the mainland of China, you'll use the Kowloon-Canton Railway, a 34 kilometer route (about 20 miles) from the rail station in Kowloon's Hung Hom district. You can pay as little as HK$8 (US$1) for a trip to Sheung Shui, the farthest you can currently go without a visa for China. The actual day-trips to China run from 10 to 15 hours and cost from about HK$560 to HK$1180 (US$72 to US$151).
First, take the Star Ferry between the two major parts of the city for the best urban view you will ever have from a boat of any city in the world. The ferries constantly shuttle back and forth, but you must pay each time they do. Upper deck seating costs about the equivalent of US20¢, lower deck 22¢.
Then, take the Peak Tram up the mountainside on Hong Kong Island for another spectacular view, this time from the ultra-fashionable residential district known as Victoria Peak. High above the city, you'll first realize how large the thousand-square-kilometer New Territories of Hong Kong are.
Visit the little shopping streets and markets, especially on the Kowloon side, such as the Jade Market in Yau Ma Tei's Kansu Street (10 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. daily, but best in the morning), the Bird Market (near Mong Kok MTR subway station, in an alley called Hong Lokl Street), or the Temple Street Night Market (just off Jordan Road in Yau Ma Tei, best after 8 p.m.).
On the Island side, do the same thing, perhaps concentrating on Hollywood Road and Lok Ku Road, heart of the antique district. While there visit the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, dedicated to the gods of war and literature.
At night, visit the nightlife center known as Wan Chai, even if you don't plan to patronize any of its clubs. If you find a restaurant to your liking, don't hesitate to go in and have dinner, an entirely safe activity.
Have dinner one night on one of the floating restaurants in Aberdeen Harbor, a memorable experience.
And if you have the time, visit the Kam Tin Walled Village, in the New Territories, for a glimpse of what life in ancient China was probably like. Dating back three hundred years, this actual, working village is still inhabited by descendants of the original founders, all in one clan, and all of them a bit suspicious of outsiders. Go in daytime, not otherwise.
Finally, have some really fine dining experiences (which means a one-time splurge), and be sure also to schedule an inexpensive dim sum meal. From morning until mid-afternoon in many Chinese restaurants around the colony, you can sit at your table and simply wait till the carts roll by, each bearing one or more kinds of food on little dishes. You then point to what you think you'd like and dive in. The empty plates will be added up later for your total bill.
Ritz Carlton, 3 Connaught Road, again centrally located on the Island side, Hong Kong, overlooking Statue Square, phone 852/2877-6666, fax 852/2877-6778, www.ritzcarlton.com/hotels/hong-kong. Rates for both singles and doubles run from HK$3200 to HK$4200 (US$410 to US$538), depending on view and floor number (the higher the view, the higher the price). No charge for children 12 years and under occupying the same room as parents (but maximum of three persons to a room).
This is a relatively new Hong Kong hotel, with a soaring tower with a crown on top and furnishings inside that look as if they were lifted from an affluent stately mansion of Britain; its guest rooms are decorated in the very same (but country house) style. And, of course, the Ritz Carlton here offers the same well-known patrician service for which it is famous worldwide. It is located close to the Star Ferry (only the Mandarin Oriental is closer) and the stuffy Hong Kong Club (to which you won't be invited). The room count is 216 units on 35 floors, making the hotel somewhat smaller than its rivals in the luxury class. It has six restaurants (including Italian, Chinese, and Japanese), two bars, outdoor pool, fitness center, business services, and shops.
Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road, the most central part of the Island side, Hong Kong, nearest luxury hotel to Star Ferry landing, phone 852/2522-0111, fax 852/2810-6190, www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong/, e-mail: email@example.com. Rates year-round, depending on whether you have city view or harbor view are single from HK$2950 to HK$4200 (US$378 to US$538), double HK$3200 to HK$4450 (US$410 to US$570), suites HK$5500 (US$711). American breakfast included in rate. Ask about seasonal specials. Children under 12 are free.
Giant, stately, high-rise, stone edifice overlooking the water and resembling a business building; it was one of the first deluxe hotels in Hong Kong (and definitely the first on the Island side) and vies with the Peninsula and Regent in various polls on the world's best hotel. Everything inside is of the finest. Yet its chief virtue to me is location, about 100 yards from the ferry entrance in the heart of Hong Kong's transport, business, and governmental activities. Constantly refurbished and updated, this 542-room (on about 25 floors) cradle of pampering has an elegant lobby and four outstanding restaurants, especially its Man Wah Cantonese room and the famous Vong restaurant with New York's Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the helm. One of the best shopping arcades in the colony might keep you busy when you aren't using the health center/gym or the pool.
Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong, a three-minute walk from the Star Ferry terminal, phone 852/2920 2888, fax 852/2722-4170, www.fasttrack.hongkong.peninsula.com, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates year-round depend on room type and view, but singles and doubles range from HK$3000 to HK$4900 (US$385 to US$628). Extra bed in room, HK$500 (US$64).
This hotel is a Hong Kong landmark: stately, traditional, and to many the finest hotel institution of the city. The famous older building remains unaltered, but most of the hotel's 300 rooms are now in a 25-story tower behind, where service is just as fastidious, facilities equally luxurious. But the old lobby is still a favorite place for having afternoon tea and watching the passing parade. Stay here if you appreciate history and/or glamour. There's an elite-type shopping arcade, business center, health club, pool and helipad, a popular but pricey restaurant called Gaddi's, and a full-time, round-the-clock nurse on duty.
ISLAND SHANGRI-LA HONG KONG
Island Shangri-La Hong Kong, Pacific Place, Supreme Court Road, Central, Hong Kong, sandwiched on the mountainside between two other towering hotels, both American (the J.W. Marriott and the Conrad), phone 852/2877-3838, fax 852/2521-8742, www.shangri-la.com, e-mail: email@example.com. Rates depend on the view, and year-round are single HK$2600 to HK$3000 (US$333 to US$85), double HK$2800 to $HK3200 (US$356 to U$410), with a HK$200 (US$26) supplement for third person in room.
The Island Shangri-La has giant, lavishly furnished guest rooms, among the largest and most elegant you'll see, of which there are 565 in total, half with twin beds, half with the king-size variety. Owned by a little-known, ultra-luxurious, Asian hotel chain, the Shangri-La has six restaurants (including French, Japanese, and a deli) and four bars and lounges, a pool and health club, and a 24-hour business center. It is next door to a large, modern shopping mall.
RENAISSANCE HARBOUR VIEW HOTEL
Renaissance Harbour View, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, part of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, phone 852/2802 8888, fax 852/2802-8833, www.renaissancehotels.com. Rates year-round, depending on view and quality, for both singles and doubles are HK$2100 to HK$2500 (US$271 to US$323. Extra bed is HK$400 (US$52).
The Renaissance Harbour View is more like a resort than most of its hotel competitors because of its magnificent outdoor pool surrounded by foliage and wide, shading umbrellas. There are 860 rooms (including 53 suites) in this sprawling complex of about 42 floors, right on the harbor (which you can gaze at from the pool). It is reasonably well-located, and popular among visitors to Hong Kong's main conference center. There are five continental restaurants. And in addition to that pool, its nearby fitness center, and tennis courts, there is a jogging trail and a driving range. There is also a business center and shopping arcade.
HOTEL INTER-CONTINENTAL HONG KONG
Hotel Inter-Continental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong, on the harbor about a five-minute walk from the Star Ferry, phone 852/2721-1211, fax 852/2739-4546, www.hongkong-ic.interconti.com, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates year-round for singles, doubles or twins are, for standard rooms, HK$3100 (US$397), deluxe HK$3750 (US$481). Surcharge for third person is HK$500 (US$64).
You'll confront gleaming black marble as you enter the lobby of this ultra-modern, urban castle, and instantly you see a gigantic wall of glass overlooking the exotic harbor of Hong Kong: It is one of the great sights of the world, quite stunning, and something you should make a point of seeing even if you're not staying at the hotel. There are 602 rooms of which 93 are suites, on 17 waterside floors, every amenity, every facility, and one of the best Chinese restaurants on earth (Lai Ching Heen, downstairs). That's where you can order a day ahead to have a "beggar's chicken" baked in clay for 24 hours, just for you. And there are five other restaurants specializing in western cuisine, especially seafood. Facilities include a business center; health spa; house doctor; shopping arcade, large outdoor pool with view to die from, and Daimler/Limousine car service to and from the airport.
Excelsior, 281 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, overlooking Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, phone 852/2894 8888, fax 852/2895-6459, www.mandarin-oriental.com/excelsior, e-mail: email@example.com. Rates year-round depend on the view. Single or double runs from HK$1900 to HK$2500 (US$244 to US$321). Surcharge for third person is HK$400 (US$51).
This large, modern, metal-faced skyscraper on the water is owned and meticulously managed by the famous Mandarin Oriental group (they set hotel standards all over the world); the Excelsior is more than 40 years old, and so its staff is particularly experienced. There are 865 rooms and 21 suites on 45 floors, and the hotel is especially suitable for both business visitors (who frequent the World Trade Center next door) and shoppers valuing the closeness of numerous department stores. It's also an excellent location for two other reasons: (1) Causeway Bay is the island's entertainment center at night, and (2) the hotel is located next to the harbor tunnel and subway station. Among many other facilities, there's a shopping arcade, clinic with house doctor, business center, covered air-conditioned tennis courts, a health center, no-smoking floors and many other amenities. The five restaurants serve both Italian and international cuisine.
RAMADA HOTEL KOWLOON
Ramada Hotel Kowloon, 73-75 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, a 15-minute walk from the Star Ferry, phone 852/2311 1100, fax 852/2311-6000, www.ramadahongkong.com. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates year-round, single or double, range from HK$1500 to HK$1950 (US$192 to US$250). A single studio is HK$1300 (US$167). Extra bed in room HK$350 (US$45).
Attractive and modern, on the east side of the Tsim Sha Tsui peninsula, the Ramada has 205 rooms on 12 floors, with no Chinese restaurant, but a Japanese one, and another serving international cuisine. Rooms, true to the Ramada tradition, and very much those of a chain operation, have color television, in-house movies, minibar and in-room safe, plus hair dryer. There is also a business center on the premises.
PRUTON PRUDENTIAL HOTEL
Pruton Prudential Hotel, 222 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, just north of Austin Road, one block from Kowloon Park and the Cricket Club, phone 852/2311 1307, fax 852/2732 4607, www.prutonhotel.com, e-mail: email@example.com. Rates year-round depend on category of room, and range from economy to duplex suite in five steps. Singles and doubles run from HK$1000 to HK$2000 (US$128 to US$256); duplex suite is HK$2700 (US$346). Extra bed in room is HK$400 (US$51).
The Prudential is an ultra-modernistic construction of steel, glass and marble, built around a large atrium lobby. The rooms are decorated in the same, functional, modern style; there are 434 of them in all, including 17 suites, (this is an attractive high-rise); and amenities include a rooftop swimming pool, more than 100 shops in the arcade, a 24-hour business center, and two restaurants and two bars. Furthermore, it is the only hotel in Hong Kong with its own subway station (the Jordan stop). If you plan to use the subway for your sightseeing, you couldn't pick a better spot to make your home base in Hong Kong.
Imperial Hotel, 3034 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, about a five-minute walk from Star Ferry, phone 852/2366 2201, fax 852/2311-2360, www.imperialhotel.com.hk, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates year-round depend on price category (but we're limiting ourselves here to standard rooms) and are standard singles HK$950 (US$122), standard doubles or twins HK$1100 (US$141). Extra bed in room HK$320 (US$41).
There are 225 rooms on 19 floors of a fairly recent, modern, high-rise, clean and with good lines; and you couldn't ask for a better location, a short walk from the ferry. Rooms have stocked-refrigerators and hair dryers, in addition to the standard TV and radio, and the hotel itself maintains both a Chinese and western restaurant and a small business center. The airport bus stops next door.
Stanford Hillview, 13-17 Observatory Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, two blocks off Nathan Road, below the observatory, phone 852/2722-7822, fax 852/2723-3718, www.stanfordhillview.com, e-mail: email@example.com. Rates year-round, for both single and double, depend on room category (in four steps from economy to deluxe) are HK$880 to HK$1580 (US$113 to US$203). A one-bedroom suite is HK$2380 (US$305). Surcharge for third person is HK$300 (US$38).
The Stanford Hillview is a modernistic, glass-sided tower, and yet only 163 rooms in size, each of fairly good size, comfortably furnished if uninspired, and with color TV, extra phone in the bathroom, minibar, radio, and access to a business center, a restaurant on premises, and a car park.
ROYAL PACIFIC HOTEL AND TOWERS
Royal Pacific Hotel and Towers, 33 Canton Road, China Hong Kong City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, in a huge shopping complex halfway up the peninsula, phone 852/2736 1188, fax 852/2736-1212, www.royalpacific.com.hk. Rates year-round depend on which of the four grades you’re in, either in the hotel itself (super saver, economy, regular or standard), or in the towers (superior or deluxe). A single or double in the hotel runs from HK$850 to HK$1500 (US$109 to US$192), in the towers from HK$1700 to HK$2100 (US$218 to US$2698). Surcharge for third person is HK$ 350 (US$45) (available in towers only). There is no charge forone child under the age of 14 sharing the same room with parents.
The Royal Pacific is a large, modern, glass-sided structure, very much in contemporary style. If you crave to be in a center of activity, with close-up access to more shopping than you could possibly handle, try the Royal Pacific. About a 10-minute walk from the Star Ferry, it has 673 ultra-modern rooms in its hotel and towers, on 16 floors. There's a business center, fitness center, Royal Executive Club, squash courts, shopping arcade, and a house doctor. Try to get a harbor view overlooking the busy ferry terminal.
The Salisbury, YMCA of Hong Kong, 41 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, between the Star Ferry and The Peninsula Hotel, phone 852/2268 7000, fax 852/2739-9315, www.ymcahk.org.hk. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates year-round are single HK$660 (US$85), double or twin HK$725 (US$93). Extra bed is HK$175 (US$22). There are also 62 suites renting from HK$1100 (US$141). Dormitory beds are only HK$231 (US$30) each.
As different from a standard Y as any you've seen, and a far cry from its former, far-more-modest predecessor (famous for years as a budget standout in Hong Kong), the Salisbury today is a modern, gleaming, large, high-rise of 301 rooms, of which 62 are suites. Suites in a YMCA? Sitting on one of Hong Kong's most valuable pieces of land, this swell version of a universally homely institution charges modest rates for its unparalleled location and really excellent facilities. The latter include: bar and lounge, business center, barber and beauty salon, coffee shop, health center, squash court, tennis court, indoor pool, jogging track , smoke-free guest rooms (ditto dining area), and tour desk. Like its infinitely more modern predecessor, which was always known as the best value in Hong Kong, this one is more than that--it's the kind of place you'd choose to use, almost regardless of price.
Shamrock Hotel, 223 Nathan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong, opposite the Jordan subway station, phone 852/2735 2271, fax 852/2736-7354, www.yp.com.hk/shamrock, e-mail: email@example.com. Rates year-round depend on whether you choose economy, standard, moderate, superior, or deluxe categories of rooms. Singles run from HK$550 to HK$1250 (US$71 to US$161), twins and doubles from HK$750 to HK$1450 (US$96 to US$186). Extra bed in room HK$200 (US$26).
This nice, unassuming hotel offers good value, reasonably comfortable rooms, each with color television and refrigerator, and a fairly amateur attempt to brighten them up with punchy decor. The Shamrock has 158 rooms in all (nine of them suites) and has a 10th-floor restaurant featuring European, Malaysian, and Chinese cuisine, plus a bar.
NEW KING'S HOTEL
New King's Hotel, 473-473A Nathan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong, at the Yau Ma Tei subway stop just north of the Tsim Sha Tsui area, phone 852/2780 1281, fax 852/2782-1833. Rates year-round for singles are HK$395 (US$51), twins or doubles HK$493 (US$63).
A modest hotel but with touches of good decor, it is only 72 rooms in size (each has all the amenities you need) and services them with two dining rooms, one for Thai dishes, the other for both European and Chinese meals. A quite decent value.
Chungking House, Chunking Mansion, Block A, 4/F and 5/F, 40 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, across the street from the Hyatt Regency, phone 852/2366 5362, fax 852/2721-3570. Rates year-round are HK$276 to HK$337 (US$35 to US$43) single, HK$245 to HK$437 (US$44 to US$56) double, and HK$506 (US$65) triple.
Behind a busy, colorful, and visually cluttered facade, the Chungking House has 75 small rooms renting for unheard-of low rates (for Hong Kong); and yet the hotel is officially recognized by the local tourist authorities and has a coffee shop, laundry, and a tour desk. Many South Asian young people stay here, and many with their back packs.