Tracey Nightingale offers some tips on how to get the best from one of Asia's most exciting cities
Tracey Nightingale offers some tips on how to get the best from one of Asia’s most exciting cities
Why go? Whether you’re stopping over en route to Bali, Australia or New Zealand, or visiting for a holiday, Hong Kong is an exciting, fast-paced, ever-changing city that’s always looking to the future while keeping one eye on the past. It quickly seduces with its exhilarating blend of bright lights, soaring skyscrapers, high-energy nightlife, dim sum to die for and shopping, shopping, shopping. If you’re only here for a few days, hang on to your sun hat and enjoy the ride.
When? Now. Hong Kong has a subtropical climate with cool, dry winters and hot, humid summers. The temperature is most comfortable from February to April or in late autumn (October and November), when the days tend to be warm and fresh and the air feels clear. Rain is most likely during typhoon season from June to mid-September. Whatever time you go always take an extra layer because the air-conditioning in shops can be fierce.
High society: the rooftop bar at Sevva
You really must: get out and explore. Hong Kong is a city that embraces the past and future with gusto and the transport system is no exception. The MTR subway (mtr.com.hk) is fast, modern and efficient, covers all the major districts, and is by far the easiest way to get from A to B (from £4.70 for a travelcard). Above ground, taxis are relatively cheap, and it’s great fun to hop on an old-fashioned tram (20p for a single journey; hktramways.com). Sit up top and watch the world go by as you rattle alongside the buses and cabs below. But don’t expect to get anywhere fast – Hong Kong’s traffic congestion is almost as legendary as Bruce Lee. In trendy SoHo, the Mid-Levels Escalator (free) is the world’s longest moving walkway and a novel way to pass the time, but the city’s most memorable journey is a trip on the iconic Star Ferry (starferry.com.hk), which shuttles across Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. At 20p a ride, and with super selfie-with-skyscraper-backdrop photo ops, it’s one of the city’s greatest bargains.
Want a more exhilarating experience? Board the Peak Tram (£7 return including Sky Terrace; thepeak.com.hk), a historic funicular railway rising 1,300 metres above sea level to the top of Victoria Peak, where you’ll be rewarded with unbeatable city views. Arrive half-an-hour before sunset and watch Hong Kong’s lights illuminate the skyline in all their full-on, Technicolor glory. At 8pm every night, the Symphony of Lights show takes the dazzling cityscape to another level when 47 buildings around Victoria Harbour ‘perform’ to music with lasers and lights. You can witness the spectacle free along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between the Avenue of Stars and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, but the best place to see it is from the water. Book a place on Aqua Luna (aqualuna.com.hk, £24), one of the last remaining traditional red-sail Chinese junks, order your complimentary drink, then sit back and enjoy the show.
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For more entertainment after dark, go late-night shopping. A far cry from a damp Thursday evening on London’s Oxford Street, Hong Kong’s night markets are vibrant, intoxicating and fun. If you’re looking for rock-bottom prices, be prepared to haggle – it’s not unusual to pick up goods for half their advertised price with some creative negotiating. Every night, crowds flock to the Ladies Market in Mong Kok (4pm till midnight) for cheap shoes, clothes and accessories, while Hong Kong’s biggest night market, Temple Street Market in Kowloon, is renown for mens and womenswear, antiques, jade, electronics and souvenirs (think selfie-sticks, chopsticks and fake designer goods). It’s open from 2pm, but it really comes to life after sunset when fortune-tellers read your future for a fee, opera singers entertain tourists and street vendors sell meals and snacks in open-air restaurants sandwiched between traditional market stalls.
Peak viewing: be sure to ride the tram up to Victoria Peak
Away from the hordes and soaring skyscrapers, Stanley is literally a breath of fresh air. This quaint seaside town, complete with fine sandy beaches and small fishing boats bobbing in the pretty harbour, is also home to a delightful buzzing street market with a labyrinth of stalls and small shops selling everything from silk kimono jackets to wood carvings and jade. Its laid-back, seaside vibe feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, yet it can be easily reached from the city. The number 6 or 66 buses from Exchange Square (70p one-way) take the scenic route and although the journey is slower (50 minutes) than buses that use the Aberdeen Tunnel (6A, 6X and 260), you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over Repulse Bay and the south side of the island as it climbs narrow, twisting roads to its highest point. You can also arrive in Stanley by boat. The Aqua Luna (aqualuna.com.hk) offers cruises on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for £20 one-way.
Before you head back to the airport, relieve aching feet with a massage, the perfect antidote to post-flight fatigue or a busy day sightseeing. Try a rejuvenating foot reflexology treatment at Foot Joy Club (from £12), a no-frills spa next to the Cosmopolitan hotel (cosmopolitanhotel.com.hk).
Stay at: For impeccable service, contemporary interiors and good value, the mid-scale Dorsett Kwun Tong in Kowloon East (doubles from about £70, dorsetthotels.com) has 327 stylish rooms and 34 suites, a superb Cantonese fusion restaurant, and a health club and outdoor pool with lounge area. It’s situated in a quiet area away from the hubbub, yet just an eight-minute walk from the subway. There’s a complimentary shuttle to Tsim Sha Tsui, key shopping malls including APM (apm-millenniumcity.com), and Kowloon Station Airport Express. The hotel even provides a handy smart phone that’s preloaded with maps and local information to help you navigate the city. It also allows you free phone calls to the UK (yes, really!) and 3G mobile internet access – genius.
Splashdown: beat the jet lag with a dip in the pool at the Dorsett Kwun Tong hotel
Dine at: From coffee shops to Michelin stars, there’s no shortage of places to eat in Hong Kong, but don’t leave town without going for yum cha – tea and dim sum. Steamed, pan-fried, deep-fried or baked, there’s over 2,000 types of dim sum. You can eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they’re on the menu in almost every Chinese restaurant. Classic dishes include pork buns, steamed shrimp or pork dumplings and spring rolls. If you like your yum cha in the traditional way, City Hall’s Maxim’s Palace (maximschinese.com.hk) has waterfront views and tasty dim sum served from a trolley between 11am and 3pm. It’s a tourist hot spot, so be prepared to queue. You’ll also have to get in line at Tim Ho Wan (timhowan.com), famously the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, and possibly the best dim sum, too. Another popular afternoon culinary choice is egg tarts, pineapple buns and milk tea. If you happen to be in Happy Valley, the ones you can buy in Cheung Hing coffee shop (9 Yik Yam St) are a joy.
For local, Hong Kong cooking, Tai Hing (various branches; taihingroast.com.hk) serves up yummy roast duck and barbecue pork in a canteen-style setting. But if you’re after a more upmarket dining experience, Hutong (aqua.com.hk) creates sensational north-western Chinese cuisine in a stunning dining room overlooking the harbour. Signature dishes include spicy Sichuan pepper prawns and braised beef rib wrapped in lotus leaf. There’s also plenty of European fare on offer. Fish and chips by the sea anyone? Head to The Boathouse in Stanley (cafedecogroup.com). Or how about spicy prawn spaghetti under the stars? Book an outside table at Italian restaurant Gaia (gaiagroup.com.hk).
Chinese banquet: yum yum dim sum…
Drink at: More al fresco drinking and dining can be found at Knutsford Terrace, a lively pedestrianised strip of bars and restaurants where seating spills out on to the pavement. It’s a great area for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. Assembly, a funky bar and restaurant, has an extensive list. If you like your bellini mixed with spectacular views, there’s no shortage of stylish rooftop bars in this city of skyscrapers. Ultra-glamorous Sevva (sevva.hk) has a buzzy bar and terrific terrace that makes the most of its enviable harbourside setting, while glitzy Red (pure-red.com) is a cool place to hang out thanks to its party crowd, DJs and prime waterfront location on the roof garden of the IFC mall. Don’t want to pay sky-high prices for million-dollar views? Then bring your own. The sofas, chairs and tables outside Red and the other bars in IFC are for public use, so you can stop by the 7-Eleven, pick up a bottle of wine, plastic glasses and some nibbles, then head up to the fourth floor for the ultimate budget night out.
Bargain blaze: get shopping in Hong Kong’s famous night markets
Bring home: a heavier suitcase. Duty-free Hong Kong certainly lives up to its reputation as a shopper’s paradise. From high end to high street, cool boutiques to bustling street markets, it’s almost impossible not to buy something here. Canton Road lures designer-lovers with swanky stores such as Bulgari, Prada and Marc Jacobs, while Causeway Bay is the city’s retail mecca. You can easily spend an entire day working your way around the area’s malls, markets, department stores and high-street shops, including Muji, French Connection and Gap. There’s also a large Apple store, where products are cheaper than the UK.
But it’s not all about famous labels, cut-price trainers and gadgets you never knew you needed. For a more fashion-forward shopping experience follow Hong Kong’s hipsters to PMQ (pmq.org.hk). Housed around a central courtyard in the former Police Married Quarters, this cool new design hub has a relaxed, arty vibe – welcome relief from the city’s hectic streets and neon lights. Stop off at Michelin-starred Jason Atherton’s latest ‘Social’ venture – Aberdeen Street Social (aberdeenstreetsocial.hk) – before browsing PMQ’s exhibition spaces, workshops, galleries and bijou boutiques showcasing the latest in cutting-edge fashion and design.
Book now: Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.co.uk) flies direct from London Heathrow and Manchester to Hong Kong, from £639 return. The Airport Express leaves every 10 minutes to Kowloon station (£7.70) and Hong Kong station (£8.50), and takes under 25 minutes.
Info: Hong Kong (£15.99; Lonely Planet) is an up-to-date guide, and see discoverhongkong.com.