Hong Kong (香港 Heūnggóng in Cantonese, Xiānggǎng in Mandarin)  is a place with multiple personalities, as a result of being Cantonese with a long-time British influence and increasingly more Chinese 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 the defeat of the Qing Dynasty of China in the First Opium War, Hong Kong became a British colony, under the Convention of Chuen Pi. After the defeat of China in the Second Opium War, the Kowloon Peninsula was ceded to Britain in 1860. In 1898, the New Territories — a rural area north of Boundary Street in Kowloon district — were leased to Britain for 99 years.
In 1984, the Chinese and British Governments signed the Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, giving Hong Kong back to China on 1 July 1997. Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the Peoples Republic of China. Under the slogan "One Country, Two Systems", Hong Kong remains a capitalist economy without various restrictions that apply in mainland China such as news censorship and foreign exchange controls.
In accordance with the Joint Declaration, a Basic Law was enacted to serve in effect as a constitution for the Hong Kong SAR. In theory, Hong Kong enjoys "a high degree of autonomy" in most matters except foreign and defense affairs. In practice, it is more complex than that: on the one hand, Beijing exerts much influence, on the other, there are groups pushing for a more democratic regime.
Hong Kong can be a little chilly in the winter (10 degrees Celsius) and hot and humid in the summer. The best times of year to visit are thus late spring (March-April), when the average temperature is around 25°C and autumn between (September-November). Hotels experience peak occupancy in the months of April and October. Typhoons usually occur between June and September, can be dangerous and sometimes bring a halt to local business activities for a day or less. The weather in winter is unstable, ranging from under 10 to 20°C.
Although this may seem like an ideal time to go to Hong Kong, many shops and restaurants close down during the Chinese New Year. However, unlike Christmas in Europe where you can hardly find shops open on this big day, you can still get food and daily products easily during Lunar New Year.
If you go to Victoria Park of Hong Kong Island, you will have a great excursion of this tradition Chinese festival. A great deal of beautiful lanterns can be found.
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 respect 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 is a festival in memory of a national hero.
This festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eight lunar month. Moon cakes are eaten, which contain lotus seed paste and duck egg yolks. The festival is also known as the lantern festival and various parts of Hong Kong will be festooned with decorative lanterns which set the night scene ablaze with colour.
Non-guidebooks about Hong Kong or by Hong Kong writers.
Myself a Mandarin: memoirs of a colonial magistrate, by Austin Coates.
Tai Pan and Noble House by James Clavell, two potboilers in his "Asian Saga" fiction series, set in Hong Kong.
The World of Suzy Wong by Richard Mason, the story of a prostitute.
Winter Stars: a collection of poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian, by Beatrice Lao.
When to visit
The climate is ideal in October and November. The humidity is typically high in the spring and even worse in the summer, when high temperatures (usual max 33-34) are often recorded. Rugby fans, and those wishing to party, should come during the weekend of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. During the Chinese New Year, whilst there are some extra celebrating events such as a lion dances, fireworks, and parades, many shops and restaurants are closed for three days to a week. However, for the Chinese, it is a good time for family reunions and paying visits to relatives. Christmas is also a nice time to visit as shops and shopping centres are nicely decorated and the festive mood is everywhere in the city.
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 from Hong Kong. Detailed visa requirements are available from the Immigration Department. Anyone arriving at Hong Kong International Airport and requiring an onward visa for Mainland China, during your stay in Hong Kong, will find a kiosk in the downstairs foyer that issues them. A photo will be required and the staff will be happy to accomodate you.
Internationally, there is a major way to get into Hong Kong — through the modern Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA or HKG) which is also known as Chek Lap Kok, the name of the small island it was built over. The airport opened in July 1998, and is modern and efficient, for it has been named the Best Airport worldwide by Skytrax for five years.
There are many direct flights to Hong Kong from every continent in the world. Most major cities in Oceania, Europe and North America are all served with at least one daily flight. Sydney has 6 daily flights, Melbourne 4 (5 from October 2007), London 11(1 to Gatwick), Frankfurt 2, Paris 3, Amsterdam 2, Los Angeles 4, San Francisco 3, Vancouver 3, New York 3, Chicago 2 and Toronto 2.
Flights between Hong Kong and other major Asian cities are extremely frequent: between 10 and 40 flights per day connect Hong Kong with Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Shanghai, Manila, Seoul, Bangkok and Beijing. Other routes may be cheaper, however. For destinations within China, it is often cheaper to fly from Shenzhen than from Hong Kong. For elsewhere in Asia, consider Macau. The discount airlines land there because it has lower fees than Hong Kong.
Oasis Hong Kong Airlines started its services in October 2006, , offering flights to London, Vancouver and soon other destinations in Europe and the US for as low as HK$1000, excluding taxes and fees.
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.
Outside the security area, travelers will find an efficient post office in the airport which provides boxes, wrapping material, scissors and tape. Travelers can reach Central, Hong Kong from the airport in less time than taking a local bus to the village on Chek Lap Kok.
There is a public lounge inside the airport with prices as follows (in HK Dollars):
The exchange rate is usually around $1 US = $7.80 HK
Apart from taxi, 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 or taxi.
If three or more people are traveling together, the Airport Express is more expensive than traveling by taxi. If you will need to take a taxi to your hotel after arriving the Airport Express Station, consider a direct taxi trip instead.
The various Airbuses are cheaper, slower but more direct bus services to the city. For example, the A21 (HK$33) bus will take you down Nathan Road, the main artery of Kowloon, stopping outside many hotels and hostels. Lines A10, A11 and A12 go to Hong Kong Island ($48, $40 and $45 respectively). Alternatively, take bus S1 to Tung Chung ($3.50) and connect to the ordinary MTR for a cheap ride to the city (Kowloon $17, Hong Kong $23). The free Airport Express shuttle buses connect Kowloon and Hong Kong airport express stations to various hotels in each area.
If you are on a budget, take an "E" route bus rather than the "A" routes bus, they take about 20 minutes longer (50-60 min instead of 35-40 min) and are about half price (e.g. $21 for the E11 from Central). These 'External' buses are aimed more at airport workers, so they make several detours around Tung Chung. They will give you a nice tour around the airport island. However, E22 (Kowloon KCR Station to Airport) takes about an hour to the airport comparing to A22 (as E22 tour around not only airport island but Kowloon peninsula).
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 by taxi than by 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, on the approximate fares to most destinations. The law is strict on taxi drivers charging according to the meter. The meter fare does not include the luggage fee, toll fee, waiting fee, pet 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.
From the airport there are private cars and vans operating illegally as taxis. Do not take these as they are not licensed and in case of accidents, your insurance will not cover you.
By outbound ferry
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 5 checkpoints on the Hong Kong - Shenzhen boundary, namely Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Kok and Shenzhen Bay.
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 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 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.
There are 6 lines of short trip cross boundary coaches serves the port,
Except the route to Kam Sheng Road, 24 hour services are provided with half hourly or hourly departure in midnight and around 10-20 mins per bus during the day and evening.
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 passport holders are not accepted).
Man Kam To control point can be accessed by taking the cross-boundary coach on the bus interchange under the shopping centre of West Kowloon Centre, Sham Shui Po (near Sham Shui Po MTR)in Kowloon, which costs $35, the bus calls at Landmark North also, which is just adjacent to Sheung Shui KCR Station, with section fare of $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 and Kowloon Tong. 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.
Coaches departs from Kowloon Tong MTR from 7:00 to 18:30 every 15 minuts which costs $20, which is also the cheapest direct coach to Shenzhen.
Shenzhen Bay control point links Hong Kong directly with Shekou, Shenzhen, and can be accessed conveniently by public buses. Route B2 departs from Yuen Long Railway Station via Tin Shui Wai Railway Station to Shenzhen Bay, while B3 departs from Tuen Mun Pier. There is also a express coach service departing from Sham Shui Po to Shenzhen Bay.
Probably of interest to cycle tourists' coming to Hong Kong is the cross border arrangements from the Mainland China as this is how many cyclists enter Hong Kong having come overland across China and beyond.
There are at present four main road-crossing points from Shenzhen, the large and rapidly expanding city to the north and two ferry terminals in Hong Kong where ferries can be taken to quite a few Chinese cities in the Pearl River Delta including Macao.
Of course there is also the excellent Hong Kong International Airport which services many flights from other Asian cities, Europe and beyond. Cyclists must note though that it virtually impossible to cycle to and away from the airport and that other travelers have had difficulty transporting their bike on otherwise excellent public transport.
1. Lok Ma Chau
Travelers entering Hong Kong first go through China immigration and then catch a bus to Hong Kong immigration checkpoint. Foot passengers have a choice of using the "yellow bus " to the Hong Kong Side or cross border buses which go eventually to different areas of Hong Kong. Bikes are currently not allowed on the yellow buses and have to be wheeled through China immigration to the bus terminus to buy a ticket the chosen destination. It's helpful to know where you want to go. Sometimes you need to pay for the bike(about $HK30).You then load the bike onto the bus yourself and have to unload again about 5 minutes later to go through HK immigration and then put it back on the bus. All passengers have to do this with their luggage. Usually this whole process is frenetic (even for locals) due to the number of people traveling over the border.
2. Lo Wu
A train runs from the border crossing at Lo Wu into the centre of Hong Kong and cycles are allowed on the train (known as the KCR) with the payment of between $20 and $40 depending upon the time of day and with the front wheel removed. As for all border crossings travelers have to pass through the Chinese side and then the Hong Kong side before boarding the train
3. Man Kam To and Sha Tau Kok
These two border crossings are usually used by heavy lorries and cars although it is possible to transit with cycles. Sha Tau Kok is used if the onward route is to the east of Guangdong.
However with the current arrangements it is recommended that cyclists use the road crossing at Lo Wu as this affords the easiest transit arrangements ton the urban areas of Hong Kong where most visitors will be accommodated.
4. Ferry Terminals on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon
Cyclists can usually travel easily with their bikes and luggage on one of the many ferries which ply up and down the Pearl River Delta. This is an excellent way to leave Hong Kong and to avoid the heavily industrialized area to the north of Hong Kong between Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
Kowloon Canton Railway runs regular Through Train service between Guangdong Province, Beijing and Shanghai. The through train terminus is Hung Hom Station on the Kowloon side, while the current terminus of the domestic service is East Tsim Sha Tsui station.
The online directory of  of Kowloon Canton Railway provides information on the timetable and fare information of the Intercity Passenger Service.
Train service between Hong Kong and Mainland China stops before midnight as the border, at Lo Wu, is closed at midnight.
Hong Kong's public transport system is highly developed, to the point where often the hardest part is choosing your means of transport. Centamap, produced by a local real estate agency, is one of the best tools in looking up location.
The Octopus payment card (八達通, Bat Dat Toong in Cantonese, with reference to a saying in Cantonese Sai Tung Bat Dat, which means convenient transport) is the heart of the public transport system. Octopus is a technology proposed in 1992, developed in 1995 and usable since September 1997. It is a contactless smart card. Even inside a wallet or bag, you can tap on card readers and the correct amount will be deducted from money stored. In addition to being used for all forms of public transport (except some of the red minibuses and taxis), it is also accepted for payments in virtually all convenience stores, restaurant chains like McDonald's and Cafe de Coral, vending machines, all roadside parking and some car parks. Some housing estates and schools use the card for identification at entry.
When traveling 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 credit, it is highly advisable to get an Octopus card when in Hong Kong.
Basic adult Octopus cards cost $150, with $100 face value plus $50 refundable deposit. A $7 service charge applies if the card is returned in less than 3 months. The maximum value that an Octopus card can carry is HK$1,000. The Octopus card also allows the remaining value to go negative once. For example, you may pay for a ride of $5 with a remaining value of $2, but you cannot use the card again until the value is topped up. The negative value of an Octopus card can go as far as $35.
Your Octopus cards' balance is displayed as you exit the gates after each ride, or after each transaction. The balance can also be checked using a small machine near regular ticket machines in MTR and KCR stations.
For travellers, there are 3 convenient ways to refill a card:
In addition to the Airport Express Octopus (see above), you can also buy a 24-hour pass for $50 at any MTR station; however, this is valid only on MTR lines.
By subway/underground railway
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (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 Road 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 stationed at Tung Chung MTR station. 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. While most of the trains travel underground, there are also stations whose trains travel above raised platforms.
The Kowloon-Canton Railway (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 Star Ferry.
The KCR West Rail 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 if you pay by Octopus card.
The Ma On Shan Railway, a branch of East Rail, 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.
Tourists can buy a day pass and enjoy unlimited rides on the KCR system including East Rail, West Rail and Ma On Shan Rail (excluding Racecourse and Lo Wu stations).
A station called West Kowloon Station is due to open in 2007 or 2008.
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways, 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 Kong Island's 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, 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 ($22 one-way, $33 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), Citybus, New World First Bus and New Lantao Bus. 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 as the traffic will allow (and then some). The Hong Kong Island green minibus #1 down from the Peak to Central is particularly exhilarating.
Kowloon Canton Railway also maintains its fleet of feeder buses. 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.
Route numbering is independent in six regions: bus on Hong Kong Island/ in Kowloon/ in New Territories/ on Lantau Island, green minibus on Hong Kong Island/ in Kowloon/ in New Territories and several exceptional auxiliary buses route. (Red minibus does not have a route number.) This leads to duplication of routes in different regions. Although the Transport Department of Hong Kong Government has been working on the unifying of the route numbers, it is still a little bit messy at the moment. If you are confused a bit by the numbering of routes, here is a suggestion: just remember the route number of buses in Hong Kong Island/Kowloon/New Territories only whenever it is necessary. In other special circumstances, ask the driver or the station staffs for the Lantau buses and green minibuses and they can answer you.
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.)
If you are curious enough, you may discover a pattern on the allocation of buses in Hong Kong/Kowloon/NT:
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, whose most popular line travels between Kowloon and Central nearly continuously, and offers amazing views (especially when coming from Kowloon). Upper deck seats cost $2.20 while lower deck $1.70, both payable with Octopus or cash (change given).
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 the 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 in Hong Kong & Kowloon start at HK $15, and you can ride for 2 km 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 drivers often round up the fare to the nearest dollar when giving change.
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 across the harbour, 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 carried in the boot ("trunk" in American) will cost you $5 per piece and all tolls are payable. The wearing of seat belts is required by law.
All taxis 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. For example, if you wish take a journey back to your hotel, ask a receptionist for a compliment slip (with its address on it) prior to going out.
Renting a car is almost unheard of in Hong Kong. With heavy traffic, extremely complex road network and rare parking spaces, renting a car is very unappealing. However, if you must, expect to pay over $600/day even for a small car. Please also note that unlike in mainland China, traffic in Hong Kong moves on the left.
By cable car
There is a cable car to Ocean Park on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, and Ngong Ping 360 on Lantau. However, the Ngong Ping Cable Car has been shut down indefinitely since June 2007 due to an accident, and currently awaits repair and investigation.
Cantonese is the language spoken by 95% of the people in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong is a former British colony, the degree of English proficiency is limited among non-professionals in those districts where more locals visit than tourists. However, others including most taxi drivers, street vendors, salespeople etc. are fluent enough for sufficient communication, especially at tourist destinations such as hotels and certain restaurants. English is fluently spoken among the business community. The English language education is started from kindergarten, anyone who had completed high-school after 1970's can be expected to understand at least written English pretty well. Using text-book-esque phrases and simple sentences also helps.
Most locals 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 are bilingual, in both Chinese (Traditional) and English. Most shops and restaurants also have English signage, though don't expect this from the more local or obscure establishments. Under the "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong continues to use traditional Chinese characters and not the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China.
The Hong Kong dollar is the official currency. The official exchange rate is fixed at 7.80 HKD to 1 USD, although bank rates may fluctuate slightly. Issued by three banks (HSBC [a.k.a. Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation], Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China) and with different versions in which the style varies a lot, these multi-coloured, and increasing in size, banknotes come in denominations of:
Some shops do not accept $1000 notes due to counterfeiting concerns.
The coins come in units of
varying in a descending size (except $10 coin)
One from other places may be surprised of the variety of different versions of banknotes issued by different note-issuing banks. You may want to have a quick look of it here (not including the new banknotes). Since September 1997, 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 convenience shops, fast food stores, pharmacies, 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, especially of China-made goods. Prices are comparably cheaper than the US, Europe or Japan, especially with no sales tax on anything, though it's still expensive by Asian standards. The variety is a lot better than in most Asian countries. Popular shopping items include consumer electronics, custom clothing, shoes, jewellery, expensive brand name goods, Chinese antiques, toys and Chinese herbs/medicine. There's a wide choice of European clothing but prices are high.
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. Kowloon also has Nathan Road with many shops selling electronics, cameras and gadgets, mainly to tourists. Some of the business practices there are quite deceptive and tourists and even locals are commonly overcharged. Compare prices before you buy. It would be safer to buy from large chain stores like Broadway.
some New Territories residents often shop for some things in Shenzhen just across 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.
Just as in any city, there are certain areas with tourist traps. They are often nameless stores that sell electronics such as digital cameras, cellphones, and computers. However, the selling price is often overpriced. These shops can easily be identified with usage of attention-grabbing neon signs of electronics brand names, numerous employees in a very small store space, and often several of these stores in a row. There are many of these stores on Nathan Road, Kowloon and in Causeway Bay as well. If you are shopping for inexpensive electronics, head for a Broadway chain store, sometimes there may be discounts here (up to 5%) if you pay by cash.
Hong Kong Tourism Board offers many free walking tours, including Nature Kaleidoscope Walk and Architecture Walk.
Get a stunning view of Hong Kong Island on the Victoria Peak with the giant, Wok shaped Peak Tower. Within the building are shops, restaurants, museums, and viewing points. The Peak Tram runs from Central to the bottom of the Peak Tower.
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, although live races only take place here on Wednesday night. For only $10 entrance fee, a night in Happy Valley can be filled with entertainment. Get a local Chinese gambler to explain the betting system to you and then drink the cheap draft beer! Be sure to pick up the Racing Post section in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday to guide you. A 'beer garden' with racing commentary in English available at Happy Valley near the finish line, and many expatriates congregate here during the races. One good tip, take along your passport and you can get in at tourist rate of 1 HKD.
The most effective way to know how Hong Kong people live is to experience the local life of an ordinary Hong Kong resident.
Go visit a public housing estate and a private one in a row, you witness the difference of rich and poor; go visit a fresh food market and a larger supermarket called "superstore", you witness struggle between small retailers and corporations; go visit one of the small shopping malls in Mongkok, you witness teenagers spend their pocket money on overpriced sneakers and "BAPE" products.
Just wander and observe - and don't worry - most areas in town are quite secure.
It is rather sad that most tourists only hang around the several tourist districts. However, it is very worthwhile to go to some more Hong Kongish places like Ladies Street, Temple Street, Seafood Street, Apliu Street and so on, which a list of so may be retrieved through the website DiscoverHongKong.com, the official site of the Hong Kong Tourist Board.
There are many traditional heritage locations throughout the territory.
There are a variety of museums in Hong Kong with different themes, but to be honest, the people on the streets seem to offer more insights than the exhibits in most of these government-run museums. One exception is the Hong Kong Museum of History.
The cablecar is an icon and an essential link between the two parts of the park. The views of the South China Sea from the car is always terrific.
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.
The tram system refers to Hongkong Tramways, a slow yet special transportation running on Hong Kong Island. It, operating since 1904, is a relic of the British administration. A trip on a tram is a perfect way to have a leisurely tour around Hong Kong Island's major streets and to have a glimpse to the locals life. Fares are relatively cheap, 2 HK dollars per trip for adult and 1 HK dollar for Senior citizens (age 65 or older)and children
Avenue of the Stars and A Symphony of Lights
Hong Kong's version of Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Avenue of the Stars  celebrates the icons of Hong Kong cinemas past century. The seaside promenade is also offers fantastic views day and night of the Hong Kong harbour and skyline. The Avenue can be reached from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station or the Star Ferry.
The Avenue of the Stars is also a great place to see A Symphony of Lights, a spectacular light and laser show syncronized to music and staged every night at 8:00pm. This is the world's "Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" as recognized by the Guinness World Records. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the light show is in English. On the other nights, it is in Cantonese. However it is not such a big deal.
Hiking is the best kept secret in Hong Kong, a great way to appreciate Hong Kong's beautiful sceneries range from mountains to beaches to breathtaking cityscape. Starting points of most hiking trails are accessible by bus or taxi. Highly recommended.
There are four major trails in Hong Kong:
Residents tend to eat out a lot 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 (點心), 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.
A uniquely Hong Kong-style eatery starting to make waves elsewhere in Asia is the cha chaan teng (茶餐廳), 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 (鴛鴦), 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.
As with Chinese cuisine elsewhere, food in Hong Kong is generally eaten with chopsticks. The usual etiquette when using chopsticks apply, such as not sticking your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. Dishes in smaller eateries might not come with a serving spoon though they would usually provide one if you request.
Cooked food centres (Dai Pai Dong 大牌檔) provide economic solutions to diners, and they are popular with local citizens. There are many cooked food centres in various districts. The cooked food centre in Sha Kok Estate, Sha Tin is easily accessible by KCR. It is adjacent to Sha Tin Wai Railway Station. It is highly recommended to tourists, as this is where you will find true Hong Kong cuisine and experience a local's way of life.
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. Top chefs are often invited or try to make their way to work in Hong Kong.
Barbecue (normally spelt BBQ) is a popular local pastime. Many areas feature free public barbecue pits. Locals enjoy a style where everybody roasts their own food, usually with barbeque forks. It's not just sausages and burgers - the locals enjoy trying a variety of food at BBQ, such as fish, beef meatballs, pork meatballs, chicken wings, and so on. A good spot is the southern part of HK Island. Every beach is equipped with many free BBQ spots. Just stop by a store, buy meat, drinks and BBQ equipment. The best spots are Shek’O (under the trees at the left hand side of the beach) and Big Wave Bay.
Drinking has not been something the locals were big on in the past but it is becoming much more popular with the younger generation. There are plenty of bars . 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.
Popular lagers include Tsing Tao (pronounced 'ching doe') or San Miguel.
Imported San Miguel is better than the locally produced variety. More expensive bars 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 local 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 ways 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 $10 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.
A word of caution for non-southeast Asian women: Western bars and restaurants on Lockhart Road, Wan Chai are where prostitutes from Southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia) work, sometimes as "waitresses" till the bar/restaurant closes. Other women often aren't as warmly welcomed as Western men.
A word of caution for Western men: Almost all Thai and Indonesian women in Western bars and restaurants on Lockhart Road Wan Chai eg Pussy Cat, Mes Amis are prostitutes. They sometimes have a second job as 'waitresses', till the bar/restaurant closes. Scams involving drugged drinks, inflated bills, and once more personal info is exchanged, blackmailing the men, a sick mother back home in Thailand needing an urgent, expensive, life-saving surgery, etc. are very common. Don't fall in love with them, only to be ruined economically and personally by them. The bars with curtains on the doors are very clearly brothels where your drinks may be cheap but those for the girls will be expensive. Bar fines run from HK$1500-HK$3000 and up.
To really go to town, spend a few hundred $ 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'!
Accommodation in Hong Kong tends to be on the small side. 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 . However, five-star hotels in Hong Kong are generally cheaper than in other major cities such as New York City, Sydney, Paris or London.
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. Price can be checked up for reference from one of the local travel agencies.
A few Youth Hostels  are available in Hong Kong for booking, but most of them are located outside the city. The YMCA 'The Salisbury' is a real YMCA, with a 3-4 Star hotel with nice rooms, private bathrooms and so on. It is located right at the southern end of Kowloon in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood (next door to the Peninsula Hotel) with room rates starting around HK$900 per day, 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. Chungking Mansions has been for decades the den of ultra low budget travelers. Today, the clientele is primarily African; the hotel is often accused of providing sleeping quarters for illegal foreign workers and undocumented immigrants. Unless you cannot find another place to stay, stay in another budget hotels or hostels along Nathan Road.
Also note that consumer protection is practically non-existant when dealing with the cheap hostels located at Nathan Road, if you must stay there never pay more than one night beforehand and if possible, use a credit card. Always demand to check the room beforehand, otherwise you can be charged for equipment that somebody else broke. If you are cheated, contact the tourist information center near the Star Ferry pier at Kowloon side.
The major tertiary/post-secondary institutions in Hong Kong are:
There is a large movement for the Cantonese speaking folks to learn Mandarin as more visitors arrive from mainland China.
You need an employment visa in Hong Kong to take up paid employment. This usually involves any potential employer making an application to the Immigration Department on your behalf; crucially you should have skills that are probably not available from the local job market. In June 2006 the Immigration Department revived a rule that allows the spouse of anyone currently working legally in Hong Kong to get a "dependent visa". This allows the spouse to take up any employment they wish, without having to seek approval from the Immigration Department. Unfortunately, a dependent visa is not available if the spouse is from Mainland China, unless they have been living abroad for more than one year. Later in 2006 HK government introduced also new program called Quality Migrant Application scheme which is targeting skilled preferably university educated labor with good knowledge of languages to come and settle in Hong Kong and seek for employment. See more at www.immd.gov.hk.
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.
Do not do business with people pushing their cards to you on the streets (so called street hawkers, mainly legal and illegal immigrants near Nathan Road, Kowloon). They advertise tailor services and consumer electronics and the prices are 20-100% higher than in reliable chain stores and department stores. Usually you are asked to pay half beforehand, and when you come to claim your product, they say it's sold out and offer another model for much higher price. It can be very hard to get your money back from them as they might even hold your credit card as a 'hostage' and refuse to give it back unless you agree to take the more expensive item. Don't buy electronic items from brands you'd never heard of because they might be overpriced low quality chinese products without any warranty anywhere else. Best advice is to avoid street hawkers completely (don't even reply to them or you will attract only more!), and if already in trouble, contact the nearest police officer immediately.
There appears to be scams around the Avenue of Stars, Tsim Sha Tsui, where a group of dark-skinned people targets on Japanese tourists. They will ask you to put banknotes into their bags for magic performance, and of course after the performance you will find yourself getting back forged banknotes. Use your common sense at all times.
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. Always look like you know what you are doing or where you are going to avoid any pickpockets.
The emergency number for police, fire and ambulance is 999. Be aware that police officers have the authority to check IDs without prior cause of suspicious, and when there is a search for illegal immigrants, visitors, especially those who are not Caucasian, are also sometimes checked. Cooperate with the police during these investigations, though if police violate their authority, do not hesitate to call the Complaint Against Police Office Hotline at 2866-7700. There are also reports of some police officers requesting bribes when checking IDs. If this happens, don't be intimidated. Just dial the number mentioned above and report the matter.
Hong Kong has some great hikes, but be safe and always hike in a group, particularly in Lantau Island and the New Territories. Although you are never more than a few miles from urban areas, natural obstacles such as steep ravines and washouts, combined with incomplete cell phone service in forested areas cause a few people to become lost each year, occasionally resulting in tragic death or injury.
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 warning signal 1 is issued. Signal 3 is issued as the storm approaches. When the storm is expected to hit, signal 8 is issued. At this point, most of business activities shuts down, including shops, restaurants and the transport system. However, some entertainment facilities such as cinemas may still open for business. Signal 9 and 10 may be issued depending on the intensity of the storm.
Taxis may still available when signal 8 or above is issued, but then they are under no obligation to service passengers as insurance cover is no longer effective under such circumstances. 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.
Signage on the roads in Hong Kong is similar to British useage. Zebra lines (zebra crossings) indicate crossing areas for pedestrians and traffic comes from the right. To stay safe, visit the Transport Department's Road Users' Code for complete details.
Crossing roads by foot should also be exercised with great care. Local traffic in Hong Kong generally moves fast once the signal turns green. To help both the visually impaired and even people who are not, an audible aid is played at every intersection. Rapid bells indicate "Walk"; Intermittent bells (10 sets of 3 bells) indicate "Do Not Start to Cross"; and Slow bells indicate "Do Not Walk".
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 often; it is not unusual to wear 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 highly recommends boiling it before consumption as contamination may occur in the piping system. 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 crowded areas such as shopping malls, lifts and public areas, just to be safe. Basically, it's a safe place to visit.
Air pollution can be a problem as Hong Kong lacks an extensive and efficient highway system. Getting around this is simple. Avoid the highways, and use mass transit instead.
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 (terse, perhaps), but not mean spirited. Even on a night out, the atmosphere is rarely menacing and most people in shops and restaurants are helpful and friendly. Most folks know a modicum of English, since Hong Kong 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 usually no longer carries the derogatory meaning it once intended.
Manners and Etiquette
Manners are very important to local people. However, their ideas of manners can be different to Western ideas, this is especially obvious when it comes to table manners. More than half of the people you see on streets are visitors, and it is difficult to tell the difference amongst Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, and other Asians. All these may carry no meaning at all to non-locals, but they do, and it is especially apparent in terms of manners. The culture itself and the level of public education is very different across the region (viz Americans and Mexicans, Germans and Italians, they are not the same and they don't act the same). English is a second language to the locals, and they are usually a lot more reserved (i.e. especially polite) when using it.
Due to increased tourism and competition from both Mainland China and other places, courtesy in Hong Kong has increased dramatically. Now, when you approach a department or chain clothing stores, staff greet you when you enter the store and thank you when you leave the store, even if you haven't bought anything. Just a quick glance at a particular item will instantly provoke an employee to ask if you need assistance. Usually, they will stay at your side getting the right sizes, etc until you are ready to make the purchase. Most visitors will be impressed by this service.
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 and outside of opening hours, coin- and Octopus card-operated stamps vending machines. You can buy stamps (sets of ten stamps of $1.4, $2.4, $3) from many convenience stores such as 7-Eleven or Circle K (OK).
Cyber cafes are widespread in the city, but they are generally geared towards gamers. For simple Internet access, you may want to go to terminals in cafes like Pacific Coffee which can be used for free by customers. Free terminals can also be found in some public areas, such as shopping malls, departures hall in the airport, MTR Wanchai station and Central Station, and the public libraries. The central public library in Causeway Bay, opposite Victoria Park, has hundreds of free terminals and free broadband access if you bring a notebook PC, however there is no wireless access, so you will either have to bring a network cable, or borrow from the library. There is also free power connections, so you don't have to rely on battery power.
Open Access Points are distributed all over the place. Use netstumbler on your Computer with a Wireless network card to check out unencrypted Access.
The standard prefix for international calls 001, but there are also other prefixes, different prefix means different long distance phone companies, all prefixes start from either 0 or 1. For example, 0060 prefix is PCCW, 0030 prefix is HKBN, 1686 prefix is One-Tel. However, before you use these long disctance companies, make sure your phone has registered in the respective company first.
Hong Kong's country-code is 852 (different from China (86) and Macau (853) ). Local phone numbers (mobile and landlines) are typically 8 digits; no area codes are used. All numbers start from 6 or 9 are mobile numbers, while numbers start from 2 or 3 are fixed line numbers. For the operator, dial 1000. For police, fire service or ambulance dial 999.
Mobile phone subscriber penetration is very high (115% in 2004). If you have a GSM handset (GSM 900, 1800) or WCDMA (UMTS or know as 3G-GSM) handset , purchase a prepaid SIM card to use in your phone. They can be bought for cash at most convenience stores. 2G (cheaper) and newer 3G cards are available, but both are relatively cheap. If your CDMA handset has a SIM slot, you can pick up the less popular CDMA SIM cards, note that the CDMA network is NOT popular in Hong Kong, so coverage is not as great as that of GSM and WCDMA (UMTS). 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.
Although the mobile phone toll in Hong Kong is one of the lowest in the world, all mobile phone companies charge for BOTH incoming and outgoing calls (similar to USA, but different from most European countries, Japan, Taiwan or Korea) and this includes the unfortunate situation of having to pay to listen to increasingly common spam (advertising) calls. Coverage is generally excellent and is available on almost all operators even when underground, including the whole MTR system, on board the trains and cross-harbor tunnels.
Payphones are available and $1 is for a local call for 5 minutes usually. If you don't have a mobile and need to make a short local call, most restaurants, supermarkets and shops will oblige if you ask nicely. Public payphones are becoming more and more difficult to find on streets nowadays, the take is to go into any MTR/train stations, they always have payphones there. The airport have a courtesy phone just before you step out of the glassed area after the customs - you cannot go back there once you left.