We were supposed to have something else up this week except that didn’t quite work out. So we decided to write about our favorite city in Asia ourselves.
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Hong Kong is probably the most visited city in Asia by us. We have lived and worked there, and transit through very frequently. It is our favorite city in Asia for the culinary delights, endless shopping and vibrant nightlife. As it is a major hub (and highly ranked airport to boot!) located in the middle of North and Southeast Asia, it’s a very convenient city to fly out of to visit other destinations on that side of the world. Like most major cities though, you can have either an awesome experience or it could totally not jive with you.
Here some practical travel tips to make Hong Kong a more enjoyable experience.
Landing at Hong Kong International:
Hong Kong International is one of the most efficient airports we have been through. We, however, dislike the potentially long walks to immigration and customs. If you land during peak hours, clearing immigration can be a long process. If you are a frequent traveler to Hong Kong by air and have cleared immigration at least 3 times in the last 12 months, consider signing up for the Hong Kong frequent visitor program. This will allow you to use the e-channels and avoiding contact with the immigration staff at both arrivals and departures. This would be especially advantageous for those in need of saving precious passport pages—you would receive no stamps while saving yourself a lot of time. It’s like global entry but free!! US Citizens DO NOT need a visa for Hong Kong.
After you clear immigration and customs, here are the things we do:
- Get a SIM card for your unlocked phone if you do not have global data. Head up to the Arrivals level and look for the 1010 store. They have English speaking staff there.
- Get cash at the ATM (never use Travelex as they are a rip-off). There are a few ATMs after you exit the arrivals hall, including a Citibank.
- Use cash and get yourself an Octopus card. More on that later.
From Hong Kong International Airport to Hong Kong Island or Kowloon
If you are a single traveler, we recommend that you take the Airport Express into either Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. For about $100HKD (~$12.90), you will arrive in town in about 30 minutes and includes a free shuttle bus to most hotels. If you are going to take the Airport Express, use an Octopus card versus paying for a return ticket. On the return, if you take the Airport Express, the best part In-Town Check-in. You can check-in your bags and drop them off at the station from 90 minutes to 24 hours ahead of your scheduled flight. This is especially useful if you have a later flight but have to check out of your hotel early. How convenient is that!?
If you are traveling with two or more people, we recommend taking a taxi. Go in the red taxi line if you are going to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. The cost is not much more than the Airport Express and you will avoid schlepping your own luggage. If you are going this route, ask your hotel or lodge host ahead of time to email the address in Chinese characters so you can show this to the driver. While most taxi drivers can navigate to most landmarks in English, don’t count on it.
The Octopus Card, a contactless payment system for the Hong Kong metro and bus system, is really great. What we like most about it is that you can use it at 7-11, Circle Ks, and many other stores. Hong Kong is humid so if you are going to walk around, you’ll likely need to stop into 7-11 or Circle K for refreshments. Use the Octopus card to pay to avoid being stuck with coins. When you leave Hong Kong, you can get your remaining money back minus a 10HKD fee. Since we go to Hong Kong frequently, we just bring it back with us and save it for next time.
Taking the Hong Kong MTR – the subway system
We love the Hong Kong MTR. It is efficient, cheap, and goes to most parts of Hong Kong. We just have a few tips for riding the MTR:
- Know the exit. Most Hong Kong MTR stations are huge. If you get out on the wrong exit, it could be a 10-minute walk to your destination. Luckily there are plenty of maps underground.
- All announcements are tri-lingual: Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
- Every car has map indicators on where you are and what the next stop will be.
- You may enter the MTR with either a ticket or Octopus Card. Payment is deducted from the Octopus Card or ticket when you exit so don’t lose it.
We used to go to Hong Kong for business quite a bit but nowadays, we mainly go just to eat and shop. A few things we think you should definitely partake while in visiting are:
Dim sum is one of our favorite ways to eat. Small plates, tons of options (think of it as the Chinese version of tapas). Most guidebooks will tell you that Tim Ho Wan, one of the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurants, is a dim sum parlor in Hong Kong. This dim sum parlor is certainly very good and definitely a great value. While we really enjoy the baked pork buns, everything else can be hit or miss. Lines can be long but we think it’s worth a visit.
We like to take out-of-town guests to the Maxim at City Hall. Go to the top floor of Hong Kong’s City Hall. It is a classic dim sum restaurant with carts! We love the carts as that’s what we grew up with. Also for those that don’t speak Chinese (those on the team know who they are, ahem ahem), it’s easy to point at what you’d like to order. We especially appreciate the carts that feature pictures of what exactly is in the cart—double win! Even more awesome is the view. You have a splendid view of Hong Kong Harbour as you eat. Do note for those with shellfish allergies, most dim sum will have some shellfish in it—whether you can see it or not.
We love seafood prepared Cantonese-style. It isn’t like what you might have in a Chinese restaurant here in the States. It should be light on the oil and sauce, cooked with wok hei (the literal translation is “breadth of the wok”; in essence, it is cooking at high heat for a short time), and should be balanced with the freshest ingredients. There are places where you can take a boat over, pick seafood from a tank, and they cook for you. If that’s a little too close to the food for you, we suggest Under the Bridge Spicy Crab in Wan Chai. We usually order the following:
- Typhoon shelter crab with fried garlic
- Scallops with rice vermicelli and chili
- Razor clams with rice vermicelli and chili
- Fried Mantis prawns
- Sauteed snow pea leaves in garlic (when in season) or some vegetable.
If you do go, order a plain rice and put the fried garlic from the shelter crab in the rice. It is life-changing. Seafood, especially good fresh seafood, in Hong Kong will not be cheap.
One thing we don’t really have much of here in the States is roast goose. Much like how we have roast pork or duck hanging in the windows, roast goose is what you need to order. Kam’s Roast Goose is a great spot for that or Yung Kee if you want something fancier.
There’s definitely not a shortage of things to sample for those with a sweet tooth. Give the milk desserts a try from Yee Shun milk company—the ginger milk custard may sound weird but we love it.
The guys on the team don’t generally shop in Hong Kong. However, they do like to get custom-made shirts and suits there. While it is possible to have a 24-hour turnaround time, we advise that you schedule at least 3 days with multiple fittings for a suit if you go to a good place. Once they have your measurements on file, most will let you order new shirts online. No appointment is needed—you can do a walk-in as long as the store is open. For mid-range fabrics, expect to pay about $50 USD per shirt and about $400 for a suit. Much of the price is determined by the fabric chosen. Every tailor we have been to has accepted at least Visa and Mastercard. Additionally, most of the tailors will do annual tours in the U.S., where they rent hotels rooms so you can go check out the fabric and get measured.
As for the ladies, every major brand you can possibly imagine is in Hong Kong. While we joke about this, every major Hong Kong MTR station is essentially located under a mall.
Many electronics and sneaker shops can be found in Mong Kok in Kowloon if you fancy such things. If you want chotskies or trinkets to bring home, Ladies Street and Temple Street in Tsim Tsa Tsui will have a plethora of items.
The short list:
- Victoria Peak—take the funicular up for some fantastic views. Nice during the day but better views at night.
- Kowloon Harbor Promenade—there’s a laser light show at 8pm daily. Check out the Bruce Lee statue while you’re there.
- Star Ferry—a nice way to get across the harbor between Tsim Tsa Tsui and Hong Kong Island.
- The Big Buddha on Lantau Island. The cable car ride up offers some nice views. There is a vegetarian restaurant at the monastery at the top too.
In Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui, English isn’t a problem. If you go into New Territories, you might have a harder time getting around if you don’t speak Cantonese but it’s usually not too difficult to find someone that knows basic English. All signs are bi-lingual (English and Chinese).
The Hong Kong Dollar is pegged to the U.S. Dollar at about 7.8 HKD to 1 USD. If you use Mastercard or Visa, be mindful that some shops will try to give you the option to pay in USD. Never take that option—always choose Hong Kong Dollars as it will always be cheaper.
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