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Experienced based info Hong Kong

A friend of mine, Adam Radford is from England; however, he grew up in Hong Kong and has lived there for over 20 years. As I do not have a Hong Kong page on my website I asked Adam to write an overview for me.

Below are his views and comments about this marvellous place.

Hong Kong General Overview

As a resident of Hong Kong for almost 20 years, I am the worst and best person to give an overview of what it has to offer. On the one hand, I know the Island intimately, yet on the other, locals tend to have local knowledge and shy from new things or touristy sites. I am also extremely biased toward Hong Kong and rate it very highly as a mega city.

Hong Kong has a reputation for being expensive, and it is true it is rarely recommended as a budget travel destination. Much like any metropolis that you would visit, you go for the culture, entertainment and dining. It is advisable to bring your wallet engorged with US dollars. Having said that though, I was a student in Hong Kong and I know, perfectly well, that there are plenty of budget options, once the accommodation has been sorted out.

As a hub to transport you to the rest of the far East, Hong Kong is a superb place to begin your travels. There is enough ‘reality’ on the streets and back alleys to gradually ease you into some of the more particular street scenes of Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines or China, and plenty of places to wall off the outside world and bask in delights that would defy the imagination back home. There are of course other choices, but none so well equipped as Hong Kong.

One of the more popular questions that are posed to long-term residents of the area is whether the Handover has affected it. Well, plenty of water has passed under the bridge since Patton in the funny-feathered hat, and his three tearful daughters hopped on board the HMS Victory and set sail for Portsmouth. Yes, of course it has changed and no, it probably won’t ever be the same. However, what is important is that despite the changes, despite all the economic downturn, Hong Kong continues to thrive as ever, and the streets continue to buzz with electricity, scarcely found anywhere else on the planet.

More than 70% of Hong Kong is countryside, and 21 official country parks account for 40% of the rural land area. In addition, it is a little known fact that Hong Kong has some excellent beaches off the beaten track. A trip out to Sai Kung should be high on the agenda of those looking for an excellent hike on well-paved routes, which take in old Japanese bastions, ancient villages, wells, and dense sprawling jungle.

Visas and Stuff

Visitors must hold a valid passport, endorsed where necessary for Hong Kong. Citizens of some 24 countries, including the USA, Japan, and certain Western European and South American nations are permitted one-month visa-free visits. Three-month visa-free visits are available to another 23 countries as well as all Commonwealth countries. Visitors from most countries can enter Hong Kong without a visa for periods of seven days to six months, depending on nationality. Check with any Chinese embassy or consulate for the latest status.

City Overview

Hong Kong is miniscule, unless you are adventuring in Kowloon or the New Territories you will find you will tread the same paths many times, toing and froing between sights. The Island drag runs east to west, with industry in the east and residential in the west. All the middle part is reserved for shops and restaurants and steel and glass structures which thrust improbably out of the hilly terrain.

The pollution is pretty awful, it has to be said. Shen Zhen being only an hours drive away, has absolutely no care what so ever about pollution and its foul belching contaminates Hong Kong’s air and waters. Not to say Hong Kong doesn’t contribute to the choke, but it generally adheres to its strict environmental regulations

The currency works out as roughly eight HKD to one US$ and 10 HKD$ to one Euro

It has always been super safe in Hong Kong on the island and I have never heard of muggings or crime of that kind. Of course, there is that sort of thing but it tends to occur in and around Kowloon, if at all. Although, there is a feeling now that with all the mainlanders’ pooring into Hong Kong seeking there fortunes, these are less than certain times. Policemen are very helpful, and those who speak English wear a red label under their shoulder badge.

Culture

HK has one of the most impressive balances of culture in the world. Kowloon is so dense with culture you can find saris, Dansikis, Kilts, Chong Sams, Hijabs and Shell suits all rubbing shoulders. There are mosques and churches sharing the same street corner. And, best of all, it seems the blend of culture has seemed to hone the culinary skills of respected ethnicities. The result being some of the best choice of restaurants anywhere.

Language

Mainly Cantonese, there is no real need to worry here, if the vast majority of cases the Hong Kong Chinese speak enough English and have enough exposure to Westerners to be completely un-phased even if you are dripping with sweat, utterly lost and at desperately hungry for a cheese and ham sandwich. When in doubt, appear forlorn, no doubt one of HK’s charitable denizens will extend a hand to aid you.

Weather

Hong Kong has a subtropical climate so it is rarely ever ‘cold’ however, like many wet climates when the temperature does drop it seems to be a lot colder than it actually is.

The typhoon season is from May to November, there is usually fair warning for typhoons and it is rare that one will actually hit Hong Kong. The worst you will see is landslides and a whole heap of rain that pools in the low land areas.

For the most part it is baking hot and as humidity is rarely lower than 75%. Best to pack the cottons and maybe even experiment with that sarong.

Accommodation

Despite what the doomsayers would have you believe, Hong Kong is always packed with tourists and 3 and 4 star hotels can be hard to book especially during the summer. Chung King and Mirador mansions, nefarious as they are, have reputedly cheap, clean and comfortable rooms. Just try to ignore the bootleggers who buzz about the entrance ways.

The Salisbury Hotel, or YMCA, near the space museum, is a great hotel with good quality rooms in a great location for extremely reasonable rates (HKD$300+ for en suite room)

Transportation & Getting Around

Transport – if you are planning to do Hong Kong in a hurry, I strongly advice popping into the MTR and buying an Octopus card. You pay a HKD$50 deposit (to be refunded when you are done with the card) and then charge it up then and there for convenient and easy payment. This is similar to the Oyster card in London, however, Hong Kong has had the technology for more than a decade and the Octopus can access almost everything. All forms of transport, including the airport run, convenience stores 7-11 and circle K, and most fast food restaurants, (McDonalds, KFC etc.), drinks and photo booths.

Hong Kong has, for a population of 7 million, a fantastic transportation service. Excellent access to the down town areas and frequent bus services to the more remote regions. The MTR (underground train) is incredibly efficient, clean and civilised. The blue line trains run from East to West across Hong Kong and will be an invaluable artery for some shopping and but primarily for nightlife, the red lines will take you way out into the New Territories, this includes the infamous Tsim Sha Tsui Mong Kok area, with Chung King Mansions at its heart. Use this line for the shopping markets and rustic Hong Kong.

What you can’t do by MTR you can most definitely cover with a bus, they run practically everywhere and with competing companies vying for clientele your choice of routes can leave you fixed to one bus stop for a good while just to figure out which one you best suits you. All are very reasonably priced (HKD$3 – HKD$8) and air-conditioned.

There are, in fact, more taxis than there are to fill them in HK, and though they are not as competitively priced as they once were, they are still the most efficient way to get around the island, especially when out to investigate the nightlife.

The Hong Kong ferry service covers the major islands, Lantau, Ping chau, Cheng chau and Lamma, they run every 20 – 30 mins and take between 25 mins and an hour to arrive at each destination respectively.

One of the best experiences Hong Kong has to offer is its trams, notwithstanding the famous peak tram, the world’s oldest funicular railway, is the tram network that runs across Hong Kong. With the original trams still in operation, you can sit back and watch Hong Kong idle by from east to west all for a mighty HKD$2. If you have the time, this must be done, you can hop off at any time and hop back on the frequent running trams, and there is no confusion with only two tracks running up and down.

Hong Kong Disney - expensive (as to be expected), and apparently not quite a days worth of entertainment, smaller than Victoria park. Absolutely rammed packed with excuses to spend money, and covered in kitsch (the local Chinese are obsessed with collectibles, hello kitty and snoopy etc.) Be sure to note the hoardes of Chinese Mainlanders standing outside taking pictures of Mickey and wandering about the lake of tranquillity who never set foot inside – perhaps this goes some way to explain why the Hong Kong tourism board assures us that there are still 10,000 visitors per day and up to 20,000 on weekends but actual accounts of Disney HK reveal it is rarely full.

HKD$250 (children and concessions) HKD$350 adults

Victoria Peak - One of the great things about Hong Kong, is that no matter what the hustle and bustle is doing, there are places you can go where the view is spectacular and ripe for inspiration. The Peak, and the walk about it is one such place. With gasping drops from the footpath, you can see right into the viscera of Hong Kong. It is not always so quite, but occasionally, at night, or early in the morning, this is one fabulous place to have a stroll and a think.

Victoria Peak Transport: a shuttle bus from Star Ferry terminal to the (HK$3, open daily 1000-2400 daily) Peak Tram on Garden Road,. The tram costs HKD$20

Lantau Island - The new Chek Lap Kok Airport has thankfully not ruined Lantau, twice the size of Hong Kong Island itself with more than half of its territory designated country parkland. Walking tours and hikes are popular here, but the principal attractions are the Po Lin Big Buddha, claimed to be the world's largest seated outdoor Buddha effigy at 26m (85ft) tall, and the Po Lin Buddhist Monastery, definitely Hong Kong's largest. The monastery itself has some fine buildings and has been used as the set for numerous kung fu films. There is a tea gardens nearby.

To get to Lantau Island, take either the MTR Airport Railway link to Tung Chung, followed by bus 23 to Po Lin, or the ferry to Mui Wo from Central, followed by bus 2. The steps up to the Big Buddha are open to visitors 1000-1800 daily.

Nightlife

Lan Kwai Fong, is still an amazing night spot, heaving with expats and well to do locals, this square slants of a slope with a most fabulous density of bars and restaurants, some with themes, some just simple watering holes, but all unique and rarely unsuccessful (the rent is just too high for bad concepts)

SoHo and the escalator This is the newer extension of Hong Kong’s nightlife, and now is an excellent way to spend the evening. Soho is one of the oldest parts of Hong Kong, it even boasts the point where Pottinger first landed (far inland of years of reclamation) There are numerous quaint eateries tucked away in the extraordinary network of streets that weave away from the escalators. You can find almost any type of world cuisine and most definitely a cool spot to chill out and chat, or listen to some live music.

Wanchai – is where, if they are in, the sailors frequent. This is once the be all and end all of Hong Kongs nightlife, it is well-worth a look in, to see something of the far easts, lusty history. To be fair there are some excellent bars, and especially for cheesy dance nights with your mates, there can be no bettering Hennessy Road, something for all tastes.

Repulse Bay, South Bay, or Deep Water Bay beach and a couple of cold bottles of beer from 7 – 11, is a fantastic option for a warm summers evening without any particular itinerary.

Shopping: For Seasonal Sales and Bootleg knock offs Hong Kong has it all. This has to be one of the finest shopping destinations of the world: Have a look about Admiralty Pacific Place, Ocean Terminal, Central Des Veaux Road – for the high street brands, and Wanchai, Prince Edward, Fa Yuen Street, Temple Street, and any number of little known alley ways for your bargains.

Sport in a culture devoted to shopping you wouldn’t have thought there would be much by way of sport. However, Kong Kong does host an extremely popular annual Rugby Sevens, which is an ever popular event. The Happy Valley and Shatin Races practically fund Hong Kong, with millions at stake every Wednesday, this is a great evening out, even if you are on ten dollars a bet.

Written by Adam Radford.

If you would like some more information about Hong Kong, please contact me anytime.

I am sure I can find Adam and ask him all your questions.

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