Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Contribution Day: “Hong Kong Guide” by Cecilia Dowd

Here are some tips of things to do, places to go if you ever go to Hong Kong. Word to the wise - it can be an intense place, so budget your energy! Keep an eye out for the free Timeout Magazine; it will have good tips on things, plus witty editorials :).

1. Getting around

It is cheap and efficient in Hong Kong. Get yourself an octopus card which is useable on all trams, trains, ferries and buses and charge it with Hong Kong dollars - when you land at the airport, talk to the kiosk in the arrivals hall, they have good deals on return tickets on the MTR, and others that include octopus cards for short trips. We usually get a 'group of two' return ticket from the airport and then jump on a train, cheaper than buying separately and it's the fastest safest way to the city:
  • the MTR is the underground rail, clean, fast and efficient
  • Taxis are plentiful and cheap you may feel like you are about to die but it doesn't happen somehow!
  • The trams are crowded and awesome, I love to take them, jump on and ride with a view from the upstairs, be sure to push your way near to the door when your stop approaches, and always eye the one coming behind if the one arriving is packed, the next one is often half empty.
  • Ferries and water taxis abound
  • Lots of buses including the little mini-buses that you hail by simply waving your arms about and jumping out on the road, copy the locals all routes are online.
  • Walking around is really nice, bring comfy shoes, everywhere is paved and feet can get sore. Your legs will look amazing after 5 days!

2. Money

We usually just withdraw some Hong Kong dollars from ATMs on arrival, but be aware that some banks have relatively low limits on how much you can withdraw at a time and they charge a withdrawal fee plus a currency exchange fee per withdrawal. It might make more sense to use a European bank account if you have one….. Money is KING in Hong Kong; everything revolves around it, the chief motivation for life in this city, a religion almost for many!

3. Water

Don't brush your teeth with the local water, and it's up to you if you want to drink the tap water, but we never did…..

4. Safety

You are very safe, safer than in Australia! Be cautious of course of looking like obvious tourists and getting pick pocketed. If you opt for bringing all the cash you need, you might want to consider wearing a money belt. NEVER leave anything of value out in your hotel room - lock it in the safe or into your suitcase, thievery is not uncommon from cleaning staff in many hotels. If you have a funny feeling about a trader and still really want what they have to sell, don't use your credit card, lots of scams in Hong Kong; & on that note, I don't ever use a credit card in markets, and pay attention to the change you get back as some traders will try to take advantage and 'forget' to give you the right amount in change! Cards are safe to use in shops and restaurants. The only places you need to be cautious of personal safety is the walk around the Peak at Victoria Peak (a popular spot to get mugged if it’s quiet) and if you decide to go for a hike but mostly that is really safe.

5. Public Bathrooms

They can be few and far between, the best thing is to know where the nearest shopping mall is, and be prepared to find it hasn't been flushed or has stuff on the seat. Always carry a few tissues, and alcohol dispensers are often at entrances to malls and office blocks.

6. Weather

It's a good idea to check the Hong Kong weather observatory website in the morning especially if there is rain forecast. The rain is graded if it is severe, black being the worst which means the entire city shuts down. If it is orange or red be prepared for delays, stopped trains, long cab queues(if you need a cab, it's normal for people to roam the queue and ask if anyone is going to your road, people often share under these circumstances and it is very friendly, civil and safe). Umbrellas are plentiful and cheap, so if rain is forecast it's best to be prepared, the rain there can be like a wall of water and last for hours.

7. Phones

If you don't fancy paying Australia's massive rip-off roaming charges, it's easy to get a pre-pay sim card from convenience stores.

8. Things to do, places to go

1) The Big Buddha, Lantau Island – It's a bit touristy but it is rather wonderful, and the monastery does a decent vegetarian lunch from memory that is pretty well priced.

2) If you go to Lantau, you might want to consider checking out a new heritage hotel that has been renovated from the old Tai police station. It is possible to do a day trip and have lunch/tea/coffee and feel the old colonial atmosphere. There are ferry taxis to and from the hotel or there is a bus that connects up to the MTR system.

3) Lamma Island – A delightfully laid back place! There are some easy hikes around the island and good lunching spots, plus ferries from both sides.

4) The Temple of a Thousand Gold Buddhas – A really funny fun place to visit, the stairway up to the temple is lined with fibreglass life size golden sculptures of buddhas, each one with a unique expression. Some are laughing, some are contemplative, and some are pensive. Worth the 1/2 day trip out of the city.

5) Hiking: – here are so many amazing and great hikes to do in Hong Kong, and a wonderful way of escaping the feeling of being cooped up in a city. There is real wilderness surprisingly within easy reach of the city on the island and mainland. You can do short ones or all day depending on what you like.

6) Victoria Peak. 0n Hong Kong island itself. There is a funicular that can take you to the top and if there are people around (safety in numbers!), do the walk around the peak, it's really nice.

7) Markets – There are a few different market areas in the city and on the far side of Hong Kong island and the Kowloon side too. Stanley market has always been aimed at foreign visitors, but I have found the market to be fairly priced with a nice range of things, more English speaking and more congenial than other markets. The nearby waterfront is nice for a sundown drink at the pub, and the area is easy to get to by bus and taxi - compare the prices, sometimes if you are two the taxi is worth it.
  • There is a market in two lanes in the city, running off Queens Rd Central, some good shopping to be found there.
  • At Prince Edward there is a street market that is fun, full of stuff at good prices and better than the one at Mong Kok that you will find in the tourism brochures. Good place to rummage for clothing labels at bargain prices, some have 'fallen off the back of the truck' (wink wink), some have just had the label sewn on wrong. Take the MTR red Tsuen Wan line and get off at Prince Edward MTR stop and take exit B2 and walk to Fa Yuen St. The market starts there and if you want to, it's possible to follow Fa Yuen St all the way to Mong Kok; there is market in that street the entire way! Makes one wonder how this poor Earth is going to cope with the masses of 'stuff' being manufactured, most of it junk. There is a coconut stall near the corner of Fa Yuen St and Bute St, the guy will stab it with a screw driver and stuff a straw in it for you (for $6 on my last visit), very refreshing! Bathrooms are few and far between in this area, the nearest ones are in Mong Kok Grand Century Place shopping mall, or at The Pioneer Centre on Nathan Rd.
  • The Flower Market. There is a whole street full of flower sellers, just beside the Bird Market. Take the red MTR line to Prince Edward and take exit B1. It is really magnificent to wander along, and you can often see unusual flowers never seen before; my happy place in Hong Kong!

8) Art crawling – Every year there is a thing called the Art Walk. Unfortunately it isn't on in April, but it is still possible to go to all those places yourself as the galleries tend to be clustered, and you will just have to organise your own drinkies, which is easy are the bars and cafes are plentiful in the same district. Check out Hollywood Rd and that area for galleries, we especially like Archangel gallery.

9) Eating and drinking; OMG the options are dizzying!!! You will NOT starve anytime soon in Hong Kong! The area around SoHo near the escalator, especially Staunton, Elgin, Wyndham and Wellington Streets, and Wan Chai also has lots of bars and places, but I find SoHo area and the streets around Wellington St near Queens Rd Central to have a better atmosphere and good food. Notable places I've enjoyed are:
  • Staunton's on the corner of Staunton St and the escalator; best people watching place in the entire city. Food is decent, good breakfasts, upstairs does a nice dinner.
  • Life Cafe: Just down the escalator from Staunton St: does good healthy food brekkie, lunch and dinner, has a nice rooftop for dinner.
  • Peking Garden Restaurant at Tsim Sha Tsui, near the Star Ferry. Great authentic local Chinese atmosphere and surprisingly good food given how large the restaurant is. Have eaten here before, it's good, best to make a booking.
  • If you want something really special and spoil yourself, Joel Robuchon has an Atelier in Hong Kong and they have different priced dining options, with some that are not so expensive - you can get a set menu for around $100 for lunch or about $180 for dinner (bear in mind that Joel Robuchon has Michelin star status, so these set menus have truly exceptional food, for once in a lifetime experiences or special events it's really memorable)
  • There is a great little restaurant called California Vintage and Wine Bar at 77 Wyndam St near Central that has these fun wine machines: you put down a credit card on a tab, and you get a glass and go to which ever machine has the wine you'd like to drink, and you can chose a tasting aliquot (approx. 50 mL) or half a glass or a full glass.
  • The Peak Cafe on Victoria Peak is a special place for Don and I, he took me there for our first truly serious date when I first visited him in Hong Kong. There is a delightful courtyard garden at the rear with fairy lights in the trees, and the menu is reasonable as far as choice and price goes. A taxi to and from doesn't cost a great deal either. Nice for a special romantic dinner!
  • Mana Cafe on Wellington St Central, great little place for healthy and not so expensive food: pizzas, salads, raw juices, service with love and a smile ;) Welcome
  • Here is an interesting blog on juice bars for health if you fancy http://www.sassyhongkong.com/top-10-detoxes-in-hong-kong/Bombay Dreams, 75 Wyndam St SoHo area: spectacularly great value lunch buffet, really good authentic Indian food. Have eaten there for dinner, but lunch is by far the best deal in the entire area (provided you like Indian food!) I can't wait to go back!!

10) High Tea has a long tradition in Hong Kong, given the British History, and no visit to Hong Kong would be properly complete without it! The Iconic place to go is The Peninsula Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. Advisable to book ahead there. Personally I don't think the best food for high tea is there, but the old building is really beautiful and nowhere else can quite reproduce the same colonial atmosphere that enhances the experience! There are other places for high tea, I would avoid the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Connaught Rd Central (I've had theirs and it is disappointing!), but oddly enough the Mandarin 0riental at the Landmark Building on Queens Rd does a very good one, but it has a modern interior?! So crazy! Joel Robuchon also does a High Tea, I'm sure there are others.

11) Portuguese Tarts! You MUST try some; this is a very traditional and iconic thing to eat in Hong Kong! Everyone has a favourite shop to get theirs, and will hotly defend theirs as better than someone else's. If you engage any local people in conversation, ask them where their favourite place is for tarts, be aware you may start a friendly argument as other people chime in to recommend 'their' place as better! It's all good fun!

12) T'ai Chi, Feng Shui, mah-jong classes T'ai Chi is a long held tradition in Hong Kong and it is common to see groups of people in parks practicing together, particularly in the mornings. You can do classes, which is a nice cultural thing to do: http://www.hong-kong-traveller.com/hong-kong-culture.html#.VROuhDqD4Us Likewise Feng Shui is considered very important, practitioners make a good living in Hong Kong! (same Link). If you want to learn Mah-jong, I think the YMCA has classes? Mah-jong classes at YWCA English-Speaking Members Department

13) Macau The old Portuguese colony is reached by a short 1 hour ferry ride from Hong Kong. You will need your passport if you go, and it will consume most of a day.

14) Hong Kong History Museum is really worth going to! It is in Tsim Sha Tsui and is free on Wednesdays, and correspondingly busy ;) I really felt it helped me to understand Hong Kong better.

15) Great areas to ramble around: Sheung Wan (New hip area; cafes, boutiques, local labels), Wan Chai (history, shops, cafes, bars), SoHo(cafes, bars, galleries some ladies clothing boutiques), Central (shopping, markets), Causeway Bay (mostly shopping, insanely packed with people on weekends), Tsim Sha Tsui (Very Chinese, shopping, some history), Mong Kok/Prince Edward (markets, often a L000T of people- avoid like the plague on weekends!)

16) Coffee! The most important drink of the day needs its own entry! Coffee options used to be really dire in Hong Kong, but in recent years they have really caught up! Some kiwi's opened up a nice place in IFC Mall 1 called Fuel espresso and that is a really nicely made cup. I notice they have a new cafe in Central at the Landmark Building I'm keen to try out. Since this scene has changed a huge amount since even my last visit a few years ago, I can recommend a few blogs to follow tips. I'm particularly keen to check out Sheung Wan district as there was a cafe Don and I would go to sometimes, but I forget the name, and the entire area has become THE hip and happening place to be, and cafes are popping up everywhere. Coffee Academics, Barista Jam, and 18 grams get a vote from us.

17) Joss Paper Shops: Just a little cultural thing to keep an eye out for that are fascinating are the ubiquitous joss paper shops. The locals have a belief that when you die it is important that the relatives left behind on Earth send you provisions that you will need in the next life. Joss Paper shops sell 'ghost money' and paper replicas of just about everything: Chanel handbags, smart phones, Bentley Cars, etc., and the relatives buy this stuff and burn it at a shrine. So the tradition goes, the process of burning the paper things transfers it to the ghost plane where the dead relative can collect it to use in their ghost life. I notice that the paper things you can buy are rarely budget brands; it's always big ticket item replicas!

Cecilia Dowd born in Brisbane, Australia, is currently living in Melbourne, Australia. Cecilia is an articulate professional with experience in environmental projects both locally and internationally. Having qualifications in Environment & Research Management, Carbon Accounting, Science, and Law; she is currently interested in Environmental Reporting, Sustainability Management and Carbon Accounting projects. To find out more about Cecilia visit https://au.linkedin.com/pub/cecilia-dowd/b/635/a21

Image from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/1_hongkong_panorama_victoria_peak_2011.JPG

Blog Editor and Owner: Luis Aparicio Fernandes (or Mikey) is a Business Expert and a Traveler based in Sydney, Australia. He is a member of The International Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma due to his achievements in business. You can follow Luis on Google+, and LinkedIn.