KING KONGby Yu Shing Ting
Boundless luxury and culinary delights abound at this glittering, glowing Asian destination. Our fashion expert takes you along for the ride.
IN A PLACE MUCH SMALLER THAN HAWAI‘I (10 percent of the square mileage) and with a much greater population, the streets of Hong Kong are very much alive. Throughout the city, crowds of people move briskly about— amazing, considering its burgeoning population of more than 7.1 million inhabitants. It’s a fast-paced lifestyle, even for visitors. With plenty of cultural sites, endless shopping and eating, it’s truly a destination for all.
Known as the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong is located on the southeastern coast of China and is comprised of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories including numerous small outlying islands.
The MTR (Mass Transit Railway) is amazingly convenient and simple to navigate; taxis are easily accessible, buses are surprisingly clean and comfortable, and trams and ferries add excitement to the adventure.
When it comes to luxury, there’s no shortage of places to stay, eat or play. Among the finest hotels is The Peninsula in Tsim Sha Tsui, perched over magnificent Victoria Harbour.
HONE YOUR CHOPSTICK SKILLS
If you love Chinese food, you’ll love it even more in Hong Kong.
For some of the best dim sum and Chinese dishes, book a table at Fook Lam Moon’s four-story flagship eatery in Wan Chai, where you’ll be in the company of Hong Kong’s well-heeled. (Don’t miss the “Double Boiled Assorted Seafood Soup” served in whole wax gourd, “Braised Dried Abalone” and frog legs with preserved cabbage in a casserole.)
Other popular Chinese restaurants are Golden Leaf in the Conrad Hong Kong (said to be a personal favorite of couture shoe designer Jimmy Choo), Forum Restaurant in Causeway Bay, and Hutong in Tsim Sha Tsui.
If you’re craving something different, not to worry, Hong Kong has some of the best non-Chinese restaurants in the world as well. Check out Caprice in the Four Seasons Hotel for French cuisine, Nicholini’s in the Conrad Hong Kong for Italian, The Peak Lookout for a mix of international flavors, Azure at Hotel LKF in Central for its lobster fettuccine, and, of course, Nobu for Japanese at the InterContinental Hong Kong.
For seafood lovers, Hong Kong offers an impressive assortment. Much like the Chinese restaurants in America, you’ll find those large tanks of live fish, crab, prawn, lobster, abalone, clams and more. For gourmet seafood, try Jumbo and Tai Pak floating restaurants at Jumbo Kingdom in Aberdeen Harbour, each designed to look like a Chinese imperial palace on the sea. Frequently used as a backdrop in films, the restaurants have hosted the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and Tom Cruise.
In between meals, it’s hard not to snack on delicious Chinese treats from neighborhood supermarkets or little seed stores. Wonderful bakeries will entice you in from the street by aroma alone.
There is no shortage of reputable noodle shops and “quick eats” to snack on, but navigating for foreign visitors can be tricky, since menus are in Chinese and workers don’t speak English. The common rule is to look for the busiest cafe with the longest line, and blend in with the locals. If you overeat, don’t sweat it; there’s plenty of walking and shopping to work off the calories.
READY, SET, SHOP
From must-have couture to the latest electronics, you’ll find it all in Hong Kong. A great place to start is at Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, where international luxury designers line Canton Road. Stroll over to Hong Kong’s largest shopping mall—Harbour City—and the famed “Golden Mile” stretch of Nathan Road glows with bright neon lights from shops, hotels and restaurants. Just nearby is Elements at the MTR Kowloon Station, also boasting some of the world’s top brands and bespoke services, plus an ice skating rink, Hong Kong’s largest movie theater, and an immense organic and natural food store. Also popular in the area are Festival Walk above the MTR Kowloon Tong station and Langham Place in Mong Kok.
On Hong Kong Island, the shopping continues with dozens of department stores and trendy hole-in-the-wall boutiques. A tourist favorite is Causeway Bay with Times Square, Fashion Walk, Island Beverley, The Lee Gardens, Lee Theatre Plaza and World Trade Center, as well as the jumbo 13-story Japanese department store Sogo. It’s a heavily populated district with a vibe of New York City and Tokyo’s Shibuya in one.
Then there’s Central, often called the heart of all commercial activities in Hong Kong, where you’ll find a postcard-perfect skyline, ideal for admiring the designs executed by some of the world’s most esteemed architects. Some of the notable, towering masterpieces include the 70-story Bank of China Tower, designed by world-renowned Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei; the 88-story Two IFC (International Finance Centre), which houses the Four Seasons Hotel; and the HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) Main Building by prominent British architect Lord Norman Foster.
Between the amazing skyscrapers are more incredible shopping complexes, such as Landmark, The Galleria and IFC Mall.
There really is no limit to the shopping experience here, as one mall or district could easily take an entire day to explore. However, Hong Kong is probably more famous for its street markets, with many conveniently named for the type of goods you’ll find there. As you zigzag your way through rows and rows of hawkers, be sure to haggle for the best deals. To help with the language barrier, bring a calculator or notepad and pen.
The most popular of the street markets is the Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok, where you’ll find a great assortment of clothing, accessories, toys and souvenirs. If your legs allow it, continue on to Jade Market and Temple Street (sometimes called “Men’s Street”) in Yau Ma Tei, Sai Yeung Choi Street South for electronics, Shantung and Dundas streets for Japanese and Western fashions, Fa Yuen Street (also called “Sportswear Street”), the Goldfish Market, Flower Market and Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. On Hong Kong Island, there’s Tai Yuen Street in Wan Chai for children’s toys, and Stanley Market known for its Chinese artwork, crafts and gift items.
THE FULL EXPERIENCE
Whether you’re traveling with friends, a companion, family or by yourself, Hong Kong is packed with entertainment.
For sightseeing, the International Commerce Center in Kowloon offers a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of Victoria Harbour from its 100th floor, known as the Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck—a great place to start your Hong Kong adventure. Back on ground, Chinese film enthusiasts will want to head to the Avenue of Stars (similar to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame) at Tsim Sha Tsui’s waterfront promenade, which pays tribute to outstanding professionals in the local film industry. Highlights include handprints of celebrities, movie memorabilia and a life-size statue of legendary kung fu star Bruce Lee.
The promenade is also where you’ll want to be at 8 p.m. when the Symphony of Lights takes place. Named the world’s largest permanent light and sound show by Guinness World Records, this spectacular display of colored lights and laser beams emanates from more than 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour, perfectly synchronized to music and narration.
Day or night, take a short ferry ride across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and make your way to The Peak, where you’ll get another magnificent panoramic view of the city skyline and the harbor. To get to the top, you’ll want to take the Peak Tram, which rises 1,300 feet above sea level and passes an array of astonishing architecture. At The Peak, you’ll find restaurants, shops, entertainment—and Madame Tussauds Hong Kong.
If you’re traveling without children, Lan Kwai Fong is a must for nightlife. More than 100 restaurants and bars open for a nightly block party with crowds of people mingling indoor and out, loud music permeating the streets.
For those who like to gamble, neighboring Macau has become a glitzy casino town, with gaming revenues that can surpass Las Vegas. An hour long, high-speed ferry rides takes you from Hong Kong to Macau, where big name resorts such as Wynn, The Venetian and MGM Grand have settled in.
For something more family-friendly, Ocean Park is a must for kids (and the kids at heart). Plan for an entire day to spend at this gigantic playground, consistently ranked among the top 10 amusement parks worldwide. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the park has expanded to include the spectacular Grand Aquarium; exotic animal exhibits including two irresistible giant pandas; an Amazing Bird Theatre with a presentation of more than 10 extraordinary birds of prey and 70 other species of birds; an ultra-scenic cable car ride; a fun acrobatic show; a dolphin and sea lion water performance; hair-raising thrill rides, and more.
Disneyland opened in Hong Kong in 2005. Located on Lantau Island near Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong Disneyland takes its guests on a magical journey through Toy Story Land, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Main Street U.S.A.
For a more cultural experience, take a trip to the Giant Buddha situated high atop the hills on Lantau Island. Recognized as the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha, this massive bronze statue is surrounded by lush mountain terrain and interesting temples of the Po Lin Monastery.
Personally, two of my favorite things to do in Hong Kong—which you most likely won’t find in your guidebook—are massage parlors and hair salons. You’ll find good ones on practically every block in the city, and rates so low that it’s hard not to visit them multiple times during your stay.
One visit to Hong Kong and you’ll definitely want to return. The ideal blend of cultural richness steeped in a highly modern city is a recipe for an exquisite jaunt you’ll want to put on regular rotation.