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Hong Kong (?? He?nggóng in Cantonese, Xi?ngg?ng in Mandarin) is a place with multiple personalities, as a result of being Cantonese with a long-time British influence and increasingly more China connections. Perhaps the hallmark of this city is the frenzied vibrancy and the world class cuisine.
On the surface, it's an urban landscape without the charm of what one would consider "China." It offers the same upscale shopping malls and boutiques found in other world cities. But the small curious nooks, as well as the beautiful greenery and hiking trails, make it unique. The city is also known for its incredible efficiency as a result of its convenient transport, quick customer service and fast pace.
In January 1841, as a result of Ching Dynasty of China defeated in the First Opium War, Hong Kong became a British colony, under the Convention of Chuen Pi. On January 26, 1841, British flag was raised at Possession Point on Hong Kong Island, marking British occupation began. Subsequent to defeat of China in the Second Opium War, the Kowloon Penisular was ceded to Britain in 1860. Later in 1898, British took possession of New Territories - a rural area north of Boundary Street in Kowloon district - under a leasing term of 99 years. On 19 December 1984, the Chinese and British Governments signed the Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, affirming that the Government of the People's Republic of China will resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong with effect from 1 July 1997. Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the PRC. According to the declaration, Basic Law was enacted to ensure the implementation of the basic policies of the PRC regarding Hong Kong. Under the "One Country, Two Systems" concept, HKSAR maintains its capitalism principles and enjoys "high degree of autonomy" in most matters except foreign and defense affairs.
With an over 95% share of the population, Hong Kong is solidly Chinese. The next largest minorities are Filipinos and Indonesians (largely work as maids employed by the local families), many of Chinese descent, and only fourth on the island are Europeans and their descendants.
Hong Kong is a little chilly in the Winter and hot and humid in the Summer. The best times of year to visit are thus Spring (March-April), when the average temperature is around 25°C and the climate is not too humid, and Fall between September and November. Typhoons usually occur between June and September and sometimes can bring a halt to local business activities for a day or less.
Although this may seem like an ideal time to go to Hong Kong, many shops and restaurants close down during the Chinese New Year.
This festival in Spring is also known as grave sweeping day. As a tradition, members of the Chinese family go to the grave of their ancestors, sweep away the leaves and remove weeds around the grave area, with a view to showing repsect to the deceased. Paper offerings are also burned including fake money.
This is centered on the tiny island of Cheung Chau. In the past the festival has involved competitions with people climbing Bun Towers to snatch buns. After the accidental collapse of a bun tower in 1978 due to overload of people, the competition was abandoned. It was resumed in 2005 with new safety measures.
This festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of August (Lunar calendar). Moon cakes are eaten, these contain a duck egg yolk.
When to visit
The climate is ideal in October and November. The humidity is usually high in the Spring while some extreme temperatures are recorded in the Summer and Winter. Rugby fans, and those wishing to party, should come during the weekend of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens (http://www.hksevens.com/). During the Chinese New Year, whilst there are some extra celebrating events such as a fireworks display and parade, many shops and restaurants are closed.
Hong Kong is divided into a number of distinctly different districts.
Hong Kong retains control of its own immigration. The good side of this is that, unlike mainland China, most Western visitors do not need to obtain visas in advance, but the bad side is that a separate visa is required to enter mainland China or Macau from Hong Kong. Detailed visa requirements (http://www.immd.gov.hk/ehtml/hkvisas_4.htm) are available from the Immigration Department.
Internationally, there is a major way to get into Hong Kong — through the modern Hong Kong International Airport (http://www.hongkongairport.com/) (HKIA) which is also called Chek Lap Kok, the name of the small island it was built over. Despite initial teething troubles when opened in July 1998, the airport is modern and efficient, and it has been named the Best Airport worldwide by Skytrax for the 5th consecutive year.
There are many direct flights to Hong Kong from every continent in the world except South America. Services to major neighboring Asian cities are extremely frequent: Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Shanghai, Manila, Seoul, Bangkok and Beijing, etc. are all served with more than 10 and up to 40 flights a day. Major cities in Oceania, Europe and North America are all served with at least a daily flight, with Sydney having 5 daily flights, London 10, Frankfurt 2, Paris 2, Amsterdam 2, Los Angeles 3, San Francisco 3, Vancouver 3, New York 3, Chicago 2 and Toronto 2.
Hong Kong International Airport is the third busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic in Asia and the second busiest airport in terms of cargo traffic in the world.
A complete transportation guide (http://www.td.gov.hk/transport_in_hong_kong/access_to_hong_kong_international_airport/index.htm) to Hong Kong International Airport is provided by the Transport Department.
The fastest local passenger transport to the airport is the Airport Express train that zips you in and out from the Kowloon and the Central district. The journey takes only 23 minutes, and there are plenty of baggage handling officers to help you get heavy bags on and off of the train. There is no need to tip them. Each way costs $60-$100, or a round trip for $110-$180, depending on the distance travelled. After arrival, free shuttle buses connecting to major hotels in Kowloon and Central are provided, or you can continue onward by MTR.
The various Airbuses are cheaper but slower bus services to the city. Lines A11 and A12 go to the Island ($40 and $45 respectively), while A21 goes to Kowloon ($33). Alternatively, take bus S1 to Tung Chung ($3.5) and connect to the ordinary MTR for a cheap and zippy ride to the city (Kowloon $17, Hong Kong $23); and if you're feeling lucky, you can even try to hop on to the free Airport Express shuttle buses!
For a full listing of busses available at HKIA refer to the airport website (http://www.hongkongairport.com/eng/aguide/bus.html).
Note that although the "E" route buses are cheaper than the "A" routes buses, the former take about 20 minutes longer. These 'External' buses are aimed more at airport workers, so make several detours around Tung Chung.
A taxi from the airport to the city will cost you around $300 depending on your exact destination. If you have 3 or more people travelling together, it is generally cheaper to travel on a taxi than the Airport Express. Use the taxi with red body for destinations to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Green taxi is restricted to New Territories and Blue Taxi for Lantau Island
There is a large chart at the exit to the taxi stand, also available online (http://www.info.gov.hk/td/airport/taxiairport.pdf), on the approximate fares to most destinations. The law is strict on taxi drivers charging according to the meter but there may be times when they intentionally take the longer route for the purpose of overcharging. The meter fare does not include the luggage fee and toll fee.
Taxis from the Airport to downtown Kowloon do not suffer from much traffic congestion. If you are going to Hong Kong Island, tell the taxi driver to use "Western Harbour Crossing" to avoid congestion, but it will attract a surcharge.
Crossing the border to Mainland China puts you in Shenzhen, a well-developed boomtown. (Note that there are special visa regulations if you plan to visit Shenzhen.)
There are 4 checkpoints on the Hong Kong - Shenzhen boundary, namely Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To and Sha Tau Kok.
Lo Wu control point can only be accessed directly by KCR East Rail trains and is hence the most accessible. However, it is often congested with travellers during weekends and holidays. So if you want to avoid for the long queues, please use the other control points on holidays. Visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side.
Lok Ma Chau control point can be accessed from Kowloon by taking the KCR West Rail. Leave at Long Ping Station and take the bus route 277 at the bus interchange. At Lok Ma Chau, you must switch to a yellow shuttle bus (http://www.huangbus.com) which takes you across the boundary. A faster approach is to alight at Kam Sheung Road Station and interchange with a cross boundary coach which takes you to the Chinese side of checkpoint without interchanging with the shuttle bus.
Alternatively, there are also some Cross Boundary coaches (http://www.info.gov.hk/td/eng/transport/bus_non_menu_index.html) operating from the business districts in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island to the Chinese side of the checkpoint. If you take these coaches, there is no need to change for the yellow shuttle bus and hence it is a good choice for boundary crossing to avoid the queues.
Lok Ma Chau is a around-the-clock border crossing ; visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side (subject to nationality, at current applications from USA and UK passport holders are not accepted).
Man Kam To control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach on the bus interchange at Landmark North, which is just adjacent to Sheung Shui KCR Station. The 15-minute journey costs HK$22. It is seldom crowded with travellers even during holiday periods. You can also enjoy the free shuttle service outside the Chinese checkpoint, which takes you to the central area of Shenzhen. However, no Visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side, which means you need to arrange for your visa in advanced before arrival.
It is the best route to go to the downtown in Shenzhen especially during holidays.
Sha Tau Kok control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach on the bus interchange at Luen Wo Hui in Fanling. It connects the eastern boundary of Hong Kong and Shenzhen and it is a bit remote from the central part on Shenzhen. As a consequence, only very few passengers choose to cross the boundary using this checkpoint. No Visa-on-arrival can be obtained on the Chinese side.
Kowloon Canton Railway (http://www.kcrc.com.hk/) runs regular Through Train service between Guangdong Province, Beijing and Shanghai. The train terminus is Tsim Sha Tsui East Station on the Kowloon side, a recent extension built from Hung Hom Station.
The online directory of Intercity Service (http://www.kcrc.com.hk/eng/services/services/itts_intro.asp) of Kowloon Canton Railway provides information on the timetable and fare information of the Intercity Passenger Service.
Hong Kong's public transport system is highly developed, to the point where often the hardest part is choosing your means of transport.
The Octopus payment card (http://www.octopuscards.com/consumer/en/index.jsp) (???, Bat Dat Toong in Cantonese) is the heart of the public transport system. The Octopus is a contactless smart card. Even inside the wallet or bag, you can tap on card readers and the right amount will be deducted from money stored. In addition to using for all forms of public transport (except taxi), it can also be used in some places convenience stores, restaurant chains, vending machines and car parks.
When travelling by MTR, KCR, and some bus routes, payment by Octopus card always enjoys discount or rebate. It will always cost less to use Octopus card. As it has a fully refundable deposit on the card and on unused cr, it is highly advisable to get an Octopus card when in Hong Kong.
Basic adult Octopus card costs HK$150, HK$100 face value plus HK$50 deposit, but a HK$7 service charge now applies if beinig refunded in less than 3 months.
In addition to the Airport Express Octopus (see above), you can also buy a 24-hour pass for HK$50 at any MTR station; however, this is valid only on MTR lines.
You can add value to the card in MTR stations, and also at stores which accept Octopus card payment.
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (http://www.mtr.com.hk/) (MTR) underground network is the fastest way to get around the city, but what you gain in speed you lose in views and (at least for short distances) price. There are five lines, with the most important ones for visitors being the busy Tsuen Wan Line (red), which tunnels from Central to Kowloon and down Nathan Rd towards Tsuen Wan in the New Territories and the Island Line (blue) which runs along the north coast of the Island. The new Tung Chung Line (orange) is the fastest route to Lantau and one of the cheapest ways to the airport when coupled with the S1 shuttle bus. The line also provides a link to Hong Kong Disney Land via a change at Sunny Bay station.
Every MTR station has one Hang Seng Bank branch (except for the massive Hong Kong/Central station, which has two). Because they're a common feature, unambiguous and easy to find, they're a good place to tell people to meet you.
Note that in Hong Kong, a subway is an underground walkway, not an underground railway, as in most English speaking countries outside of North America.
The Kowloon-Canton Railway (http://www.kcrc.com.hk/) (KCR) connects Kowloon to Canton (Guangdong) in mainland China, but is also an important commuter line. The main KCR East Rail terminates in East Tsim Sha Tsui, where you can interchange with the MTR and the famous Star Ferry.
The KCR West Rail was opened in 2003. It links up Nam Cheong, which is on the reclaimed land next to Sham Shui Po, and Tuen Mun. It links Kowloon with the Western New Territories. Direct boundary crossing is now not available by KCR West Rail, but you can alight at Long Ping Station and take bus route 277 to the boundary. Alternatively, you can also alight at Kam Sheung Road Station and take the cross boundary coach with a promotional fare HK$25 if you pay by Octopus card.
The Ma On Shan Railway, a branch of East Rail, was opened on December 2004. It starts at Tai Wai Station and terminates at Wu Kai Sha Station. Passengers can make use of the Ma On Shan Railway to travel to Ma On Shan, and to the more rural part of the Sai Kung Country Park.
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways (http://www.hktramways.com/), the narrow double-decker city trams trundling on the north coast of Hong Kong Island are a Hong Kong icon. Trams are slower but the route along the length of Hong Islands centre is useful and with a flat fare of only $2, they're the cheapest sightseeing tour around.
In a league of its own is the Peak Tram (http://www.thepeak.com.hk/tram/location.html), Hong Kong's first mechanised mode of transport, opened back in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7-km track up from Central to Victoria Peak is worth at least one trip despite the comparatively steep price ($20 one-way, $30 return; return tickets must be purchased in advance).
There are three flavours of bus available in Hong Kong, operated by a multitude of companies. While generally easy to use (especially with Octopus), signage in English can be sparse and finding your bus stop can get difficult. Buses are pretty much your only option for traveling around the south side of the island and Lantau.
The large double-decker buses cover practically all of the territory, stop frequently and charge varying fares depending on the distance. The first seats of the upper deck offer great views. The franchised bus operators in Hong Kong include Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) (http://www.kmb.hk), Citybus (http://www.citybus.com.hk), New World First Bus (http://www.nwfb.com.hk) and New Lantao Bus (http://www.newlantaobus.com/). Route and fare information can be found on the companies web sites.
Van-sized public light buses carry a maximum of 16 passengers (seats only) and come in two varieties, namely red minibuses and green minibuses (also called maxicabs); the color refers to a wide stripe painted on top of the vehicle. Red minibuses can pick up and drop off passengers anywhere the law allows, while green minibuses follow a fixed route from point to point as fast the traffic will allow (and then some). The Hong Kong Island green minibus #1 down from the Peak to Central is particularly exhilarating. The Transport Department provides a route list (http://www.info.gov.hk/td/eng/transport/minibus_g_table_index.html) of green minibuses.
Kowloon Canton Railway also maintains its fleet of feeder buses (http://www.kcr.com.hk/eng/services/services/b_intro.asp). KCR passengers can enjoy a free feeder service if the payment is made by Octopus. The route K16 is especially useful for tourists who need to go to Tsim Sha Tsui from the New Territories and mainland China by rail.
Note that if paying in cash, the exact fare is required and no change can be given. Paying by Octopus is much more convenient.
Bus/minibus route numbering can also be a little bit of a mess for visitors, since buses/minibuses in different districts can have same route number. There are six domains in bus/minibus route numbering: bus in Hong Kong Island, bus in Kowloon/New Territories, bus in Lantau Island, green minibus in Hong Kong Island, green minibus in Kowloon and green minibus in New Territories. (Red minibus does not have a route number.) For example, there are six bus/minibus routes numbered #2. (Bus #2 in Hong Kong Island, bus #2 in Kowloon, bus #2 in Lantau Island, green minibus #2 in Hong Kong Island, green minibus #2 in Kowloon and green minibus #2 in New Territories)
Generally you need not to mention which district the route belongs to when you are asking for directions (almost all people will assume you will asking for the route which runs in the district you are in, e.g. if you ask for bus route #2, locals will assume you will asking for bus route #2 running in Kowloon if you are in Kowloon), but you really need to mention whether the route is bus or minibus when you ask, since in some cases both bus and minibus can have same route number in the same area which are actually different routes. (e.g. there are both bus route #6 and minibus route #6 in Tsim Sha Tsui, which are actually different routes.)
Known as Cross Tunnel Bus, buses link up Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The prefix of the bus number indicates the tunnel the bus uses to cross the harbour.
A vast fleet of ferries plies between the many islands of Hong Kong. The granddaddy of them all and an attraction in itself is the Star Ferry (http://www.starferry.com.hk/), whose most popular line travels between Kowloon and Central nearly continuously, and offers amazing views (especially when coming from Kowloon). Upper deck seats costs HK$2.20, lower deck HK$1.70, both payable with Octopus (and a quarter of the viewless MTR fare for the same trip!). The Upper deck gets you air-con, but the views are actually better from the windowless lower deck.
Visitors staying in the Tsim Sha Tsui East area may find the ferry operated by Discovery Bay Transport Ltd (http://www.hkri.com/cms1/DBTPL/DBTPL54.html) a convenient alternative to the star ferry, which is a long walk away. Ferry terminates in Central, besides the Star Ferry pier.
Ferries to Lamma, Lantau and other islands depart from a variety of ports, but the largest and most important terminal is at Central adjacent to the Star Ferry. Ferries are usually divided into fast ferries and slow ferries, with fast ferries charging around twice to price for half the journey time, although not all destinations offer both kinds of service. Example fares for trips from Central to Yung Shue Wan (Lamma) are $10/15 slow/fast, and to Mui Wo (Lantau) $10.50/$21. Note that all fares increase around 50% on Sundays and public holidays.
Taxicabs are plentiful, clean and efficient. They were just recently (2003) rated as the cheapest of all big cities in the world. Not good news for the drivers, but good for the tourist. Fares (http://www.info.gov.hk/td/eng/transport/taxis_table.html) start at HK $15, and you can ride for 2 kilometres before additional $1.40 per 200m increments start ticking. A ride all the way across the island will cost no more than $80. No tipping is expected, but the fare may be rounded up to the nearest dollar.
Drivers are required to provide change for HK $100 notes, but not for higher denominations. If you only have a $500 or $1000 note and are going through a tunnel, let the driver know beforehand and he will change it when paying at the toll booth.
Life is made slightly more difficult by the fact that there are three different flavors of taxi. These can be distinguished by colour: red taxis typically serve the Island and Kowloon, and some parts of the New Territories (for example Shatin), but they are permitted to travel all over Hong Kong except to Lantau Island; green taxis serve the New Territories (only), but with a slightly cheaper fare than red taxis; blue taxis serve Lantau (only). (You are unlikely to ever encounter a blue Taxi, as there are only about 50 of them in existence.) All three types of taxis can take you to the airport. When in doubt, just take a red taxi.
In addition, red taxis are based in either the Island or Kowloon, if they do take you, they will charge you twice the bridge/tunnel toll so they can get back! But you can use this to your advantage by picking a homebound taxi from a cross-harbour taxi rank in places like the Star Ferry pier or Hung Hom station. In these cross-harbour taxi stands only single toll charge will be applied to the taxi fare.
There are no extra late-night charges. Baggage will cost you $5 a pop (but in practice almost never charged) and all tolls are payable. The wearing of seat belts is required by law.
All taxi's are radio equipped and can be reserved and requested via an operator for a token fee, payable to the driver. You are unlikely to need to call a taxi though as they are plentiful.
It is good practice to get a local person to write the name or address of your destination in Chinese for you to hand to the taxi driver, as most drivers do not speak sufficient English.
Renting a car is almost unheard of in Hong Kong, with the reasons being heavy traffic, extremely complex road network and parking well nigh impossible. However, if you must, even for a small car expect to pay over $600/day.
Cantonese is the language spoken by 90% of the people in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong is a former British colony, the degree of English proficiency is limited among non-professionals such as restaurant workers. However, most taxi drivers, street vendors, etc. are fluent enough for sufficient communication. English is fluently spoken among the business community and at tourist destinations such as hotels and certain restaurants.
Most Hong Kongers are not fluent in Mandarin, but can comprehend it to a certain degree. Mandarin proficiency is increasing, especially after the reunification with the mainland.
All official signs contain English, some of them containing English only. Most shops and restaurants also have English signage, though don't expect this from the more local or obscure establishments.
The Hong Kong dollar (http://www.info.gov.hk/hkma/new_hk_banknotes/eng/index.htm) is the common currency. The official exchange rate is fixed at 7.80 HKD to 1 USD, although bank rates may fluctuate slightly. Issued by several different banks, these multicoloured, and increasing in size, banknotes come in denominations of:
Some shops do not accept the $1000 note since there was a counterfeiting case several years ago. The notoriously heavy coins come in units of $10, $5, $2, $1, 50 cents, 20 cents and 10 cents.
The use of the small coins and change has been reduced due to the innovation of the Octopus card. Originally used just for transit payments for subways and buses, it now is used all over the city, for purchases in any amount at 7-11, McDonald's, fast food, pharmacies, copying machines, vending machines, etc. It has changed the speed and ease of small transactions in Hong Kong, and does away with many of the small coin transactions.
Hong Kong is still known as an excellent destination for shopping. The prices are comparably cheaper than the US, Europe or Japan, especially with no sales tax on anything. The variety is a lot better than in most Asian countries. Popular shopping items include consumer electronics, custom clothings, shoes, jewelleries, expensive brand names goods, Chinese antiques, toys and Chinese herbs/medicine.
As a generalisation, the Island has the fancy name-brand air-con shopping malls (particularly near Causeway Bay), while Kowloon is the place to go for cheap open markets and the rip-off artists of Nathan Road. It's best not to buy goods from these shops selling electronics, cameras and gadgets as they are overpriced and deceptively sold (mostly to tourists). Compare prices before you buy. It would be safer to buy from large chain stores like Broadway (http://www.ibroadway.com.hk/address.php) or Fortress (http://fortress.com.hk/eng/home.asp).
Hong Kong people themselves often shop for some things in Shenzhen just over the border into China.
Hong Kong is full of shopping centers. Here are some of them
Hong Kong has a lot of street markets. Some of them just selling regular groceries, others clothes, bags or even electronics.
The racing season runs from September to June, during which time meetings take place twice weekly, the location alternating between Shatin in the New Territories and Happy Valley near Wan Chai. Of these, Happy Valley is the more convenient and more impressive location.
The most effective way to know how Hong Kong people live is to experience the local life of an ordinary Hong Kong resident.
There are many traditional heritage locations throughout the territory.
There are a variety of museums (http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/cs_mus_lcsd.php) in Hong Kong with different themes.
Hong Kong is not all skyscrapers, and it's worthwhile to go to the countryside, including the country parks (http://parks.afcd.gov.hk/newparks/eng/country/index.htm) and marine parks (http://parks.afcd.gov.hk/newmarine/eng/index.htm).
Seeing different sides of Hong Kong by Public Transport
Travelling on a bus or a tram is ideal for looking at different sides of Hong Kong. Not only it is cheap to ride on a bus or a tram, it also allows you to see completely different lifestyles in different districts in a short time. Below are some recommended routes.
There are four major trails in Hong Kong.
Perhaps the number one highlight of Hong Kong is the cuisine. Not only is it a showcase of traditional and modern Cantonese cuisine, the various regional cuisines from around China, such as Teochew and Sichuan are all well represented.. There are also excellent Asian and Western restaurants as well.
Residents tend to eat out alot more than in other countries. Perhaps because of this eating out can be fairly cheap, as long as you stick to local restaurants, and avoid the often overpriced western counterparts.
Above all, Hong Kong is known for its dim sum (??), delicately prepared morsels of Cantonese cuisine served from a neverending procession of carts and eaten with tea. Dim sum is usually eaten for breakfast or lunch and is often the focus of family get-togethers on Sundays. The best place to have local style Dim Sum is in a public housing estate in the New Territories. Chinese restaurants in tourist districts are expensive. You will never be able to experience an authentic Hong Kong style Dim Sum meal in a tourist district.
A uniquely Hong Kong-style eatery starting to make waves elsewhere in Asia is the cha chaan teng (???), literally "tea cafe", but offering fusion fast food that happily mixes Western and Eastern fare: innovations include noodles with Spam, stir-fried spaghetti and baked rice with cheese. Usually a wide selection of drinks is also available, almost always including the popular tea-and-coffee mix yuanyang (??), and perhaps more oddities (to the Western palate) like boiled Coke with ginger or iced coffee with lemon. Orders are usually recorded on a chit at your table and you pay at the cashier as you leave.
Cooked food centres (Dai Pai Dong ???) provide economic solutions to diners, and they are popular with local citizens. There are many cooked food centres in various districts.
Wet markets are still prevalent. Freshness is a key ingredient to all Chinese food, so frozen meat and vegetables are frowned upon, and most markets display freshly butchered beef and pork (with entrails), live fish in markets, and more exotic shellfish, frogs, turtles and snails. Maids who cook for their employers usually go to the market everyday to buy fresh ingredients, just like the restaurants.
Western gourmet supermarkets:
24 hour convenience stores 7-Eleven and Circle K can be found anywhere.
Hong Kong also has a staggering range of international restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world. These can often be found in, though not restricted to, entertainment districts such as Lan Kwai Fong, Soho or Knutsford Terrace.
Barbecue (normally spelt BBQ) is a popular local passtime. Many areas feature free public barbecue pits.
Drinking has not been something the locals were big on in the past but it is becoming much more popular with the younger generation. Thanks to the large numbers of western expats there are plenty of places for them to go and drink, especially on the Island side. The traditional hotspot for both eating and drinking with westerners is Lan Kwai Fong in Central. Wan Chai is also fun, if slightly sleazier with numerous girly bars along Lockhart Road, while Causeway Bay and Eastern Soho out beyond Quarry Bay offer a less touristy experience.
Knutsford Terrace is a popular drinking and dining spot in Kowloon but there are many other places in and around Tsim Sha Tsui. Some of them can get pretty expensive though - up to USD10 for a drink in some places!
To really go to town, spend a few hundred HK$ drinking in the Felix bar at the top of the Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon-side. Possibly the best view in the world, especially from the gents'!
Popular lagers include Tsing Tao (pronounced 'ching doe') or San Miguel.
Imported San Miguel is better than the locally produced variety. More expensive bars end will likely serve this, but at others you may have to specifically ask for "Philippine San Miguel" (and pay more) At the lower end only locally stuff will be available. Imported bottles can be easily distinguished as they have brown glass with white frosted lettering. Locally filled bottles use a label.
One of the best way to drink in Hong Kong is to have a walk around all the bars first and have a look which ones are doing special offers and what time they run Happy Hour. Most bars have a Happy Hours, which makes for a more cost effective way to drink. Also keep in mind the races on a Wednesday night at Happy Valley race course, you only pay $10hk for entry and pay around $100 for a jug of beer. Also Wednesday nights is ladies night, during which many bars in Wan Chai give free drinks to the ladies.
The legal drinking age is 18. Public drunkeness is rare.
Accommodation in Hong Kong tend to be on the small side, probably one step larger than in Japan. Accommodation ranging from cheap backpacker hostels to the ritziest luxury hotels can be found in the city. As a rule of thumb, expensive luxury accommodation are on Hong Kong Island while cheaper digs can be found in Kowloon and the New Territories .
Besides luxury five star hotels, there are also a variety of more affordable hotels, guest houses, backpacker hostels, and holiday camps. The government maintains an online list of licensed hotels and guesthouse. The online directory can be found here (http://www.hadla.gov.hk/english/).
A few Youth Hostels (http://www.yha.org.hk/eng/index.jsp) are available in Hong Kong for booking, but most of them are located outside the city. The YMCA 'The Salisbury' is not a real YMCA, but rather a 3-4 Star hotel with nice rooms, private bathrooms and so on. Its location right at the southern end of Kowloon (and next door to the Peninsula) makes this an ideal place to stay for budget-minded travellers. For the truly budget-minded, there are numerous cheap hostels that can be found inside Chungking Mansions and Mirador Mansions buildings, near the intersection of Nathan Road and Mody Road in Kowloon.
The major tertiary/post-secondary institutions in Hong Kong are
There is a large movement for the Cantonese speaking folks to learn Mandarin, because of more links with and visitors from mainland China.
You need a work visa in Hong Kong to be paid, and until recently one spouse with a work visa automatically allowed the other spouse to work. As of July 2003, largely in reaction to the economic slump and high unemployment, this has changed so that the spouse does not get the privilege, and must be sponsored by an employer.
As large international cities go, Hong Kong is one of the safest, in terms of crime and personal safety. However it does have its share of petty crime, but it can be avoided with some street smarts.
Watch your purse and wallet at all times. When in restaurants, do not sling your pack or purse behind your chair. Clutch any bags or purses in front of you when on the buses and railways.
In Hong Kong, the emergency number for Police (http://www.info.gov.hk/police), Fire and Ambulance is 999.
Be careful when hiking alone. With the loosening up of border restrictions to allow mainland tourists there have been some instances of people being held captive by one person whilst another takes their Cashpoint card to withdraw money.
Typhoons normally occur during the months of May to November, and are particularly prevalent during September. Whenever a typhoon approaches within 800km of Hong Kong, typhoon signal 1 is raised. Signal 3 is raised as the storm approaches. When the storm is expected to hit, signal 8 is raised. At this point, most of Hong Kong shuts down, including shops, restaurants and the transport system. Signal 9 and 10 may be raised depending on the intensity of the storm.
Taxis may still available when signal 8 or above is raised, but then they are under no obligation to transport you. It is quite possible to negotiate a fare with the driver, typically up to twice the meter fare.
Rainstorms also have their own warning system. In increasing order of severity, the levels are amber, red and black.
Note that most cinemas remain open thoughout all adverse weather warning signals.
One unexpected cause of sickness in Hong Kong is the extreme temperature change between 35°C (95°F) humid summer weather outdoors and 18°C (65°F) air-conditioned buildings and shopping malls. Some people experience cold symptoms after moving between the two extremes so much; it is not unusual to need a sweater or covering to stay warm indoors (though the Hong Kong Government currently encourages the temperature in air-conditioned buildings be kept at 25.5 °C for energy saving, etc.)
Whilst tap water is technically safe to drink (taste aside), the government recommends boiling it before consumption. Most locals boil or filter their water, or buy inexpensive bottled water.
Because of recent concerns about SARS and the threat of Avian Flu, there are hygiene stations around town featuring antiseptic hand gel and alcohol sprays. You're wise to use them in busy areas such as shopping malls, lifts and public areas, just to be safe. As always, check with your national board of health or travel before you go to ensure you have the proper immunizations against local disease that may not be common in your area.
Westerners say Hong Kong can be a pretty rude city with the large crowds, pushing, shoving, and crowdedness — similar to New York City or London. However, it can be best described as hurried and efficient, but not mean spirited. Most folks know a modicum of English, since it was a British colony, so you don't have to worry about offending anyone by speaking English. Some Hong Kong people use the term gwai lo (commonly translated as "foreign ghost" in English; it literally means "ghost guy") to refer to Caucasian foreigners. However, locally, this term is simply used as a term to refer to Caucasians and is not meant to be derogatory in any way, often with a slight trace of paying respect.
Manners and Etiquette
Manners are very important to local people, however, their ideas of manners can be very different to Western ideas. For example, it's somewhat acceptable to chomp and slurp your food, talk quite loudly in public, or point out to someone how fat they are — and don't expect a "thank you" if you hold a door for someone.
Hong Kong has communications facilities as modern as any in the world.
Postal services are efficient and of high quality. You will find post offices in major city areas. You can buy stamps from many convenience stores such as 7-Eleven or Circle K.
Cyber cafes are widespreaded in the city, but they tend to be geared towards online gamers rather than travellers. Terminals in Pacific Coffee (http://www.pacificcoffee.com) can be used for free by customers. Free terminals can also be found in some public areas, such as shopping malls, and certain MTR stations.
The international dialing code is 001. Hong Kong's country-code is 852 (different from China and Macau). Local phone numbers (mobile and landlines) are typically 8 digits; no area codes are used. For the operator, dial 1000.
Mobile phone subscriber penetration is very high and you will quickly find it a necessity. If you have a GSM handset, purchase a prepaid SIM card to use in your phone. They can be bought for cash at most convienience stores. Try to ensure that you purchase a 2G card rather than the newer 3G cards. A card with value of around $50 should be sufficient unless you are making international calls. Most cards provide standard services such as SMS and voice mail. For the adventurous types, discounted prepaid SIM Cards can be purchased in Ap Liu Street in Sham Shui Po, and "Sin Daat" arcade in Mongkok (Argyle St - close to Lady street). Cheap GSM and 3G phones can be purchased here as well. Mobile phone numbers also have eight digits and begin with 6 or 9.
Payphones are available (but rare, due to high mobile penetration), $1 for local call. If you don't have a mobile and need to make a short local call, most restaurants and shops will oblige if you ask nicely. Some supermarkets have a dedicated phone especially for customers to use. The airport have a courtesy phone just before you step out of the glassed area after the customs.
It is possible to dial internationally from most phones.