Conquering Hong Kong: Travel Planning Guide
Hong Kong is one of the most dynamic places in the world. The former British colony merges east and west to spectacular effect. It has become one of the the truly world cities with citizens from all over the world calling it home. Toursits flock to its iconic harbour and dazzling sights. There is no question that Hong Kong is one of the most popular destinations and offers visitors so much to see, do, and eat.
Get to Know Hong Kong
Hong Kong was once part of the vast British Empire. As part of an agreement, the island was turned over to China in 1997. It became a Special Administrative District (SAR.) In a one country two systems agreement, Hong Kong maintains a high level of autonomy from the mainland Chinese government, although there have been clashes in recent years as China tried to assert more influence over the region.
The island thrives as a free market economy next to the more closed Chinese mainland. Due to its financial success and scarcity of space it is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. As a result it ranks as the city with the highest number of skyscrapers in the world.
The impressive skyline of Victoria Harbour is one reason why it is one of the most popular tourist spots in the world. It boasts a large number of museums and other cultural treasures. It is known as an entertainment Mecca with stars such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and director John Woo among the film stars to come out of Hong Kong cinema.
Hong Kong is made up of several islands. The most action is on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The New Territories is made up of several islands including Lantau Island.
When To Go
Hong Kong has a sub tropical climate and enjoys warm to hot weather year around. The summers are hot humid and rainy. Typhoons can hit between June and September. Summer is probably the time to avoid if possible due to weather. Winter, Spring, and fall are all great times to visit, especially if you are trying to avoid cold weather in other parts of the world.
How Long to Stay
Hong Kong has lots to see in do in a small space. Thanks to a great public transportation system you can see a lot in a short amount of time. This can come in handy as it is an expensive place to visit. If time or money is an issue, 3-4 days is enough to see the main sites. If you have the time, a week is ideal to get a good sense of what Hong Kong has to offer.
With its British colony roots English is widely spoken in Hong Kong. Signs are written in both Cantonese and English. Learning a few words in Cantonese can only help, but there shouldn’t be too much trouble communicating if you only speak English.
Getting To Hong Kong
Immigration is separate from mainland China and treated by the Chinese government essentially as a separate country. The positive is that most people do not need to obtain a Chinese visa before entering Hong Kong. Citizens from the United Kingdom allowed to stay for 180 days without obtaining a visa and most other western countries enjoy 90 days in Hong Kong without a visa. If you enter mainland China, come to Hong Kong and return to mainland China, you must have a multi entry Chinese Visa. For those taking advantage of visa free transit through mainland China, both Hong Kong and Macau are considered separate regions and qualify as final destinations.
Hong Kong is an international city and is accessible from nearly every corner of the globe. Most visitors arrive by air, but you can also arrive by boat or car from mainland China.
- Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) is considered one of the top airports in the world thanks to a modern easy to navigate design and lots of amenities to use while waiting for your flight. There is even a separate terminal handling ferry traffic for visitors wishing to go straight to or from Macau.
The easiest and fastest way to get to and from the city from the airport is the airport express.
In less than 30 minutes, you can arrive in Hong Kong via a comfortable and wifi enabled express train. You may also take a bus which is cheaper but usually much longer depending on what part of Hong Kong you are traveling to. Taxi is also available, but the most expensive option and not advisable unless you are going to a nearby place like Hong Kong Disneyland.
Trains do run between Hong Kong and several cities in mainland China with Guangzhou being the most popular. A train to or from Beijing or Shanghai will take roughly 20 hours.
You can arrive from mainland China at Shenzhen. If you are driving take note as mainland China drives on the right and Hong Kong drives on the left, so be prepared if this is how you arrive.
Getting Around Hong Kong
Hong Kong has one of the best most efficient public transportation networks in the world. If you are using any form of public transportation you will need an Octopus card. The debit card allows you to pay for public transportation and many stores will also accept Octopus card for payment. The card can be purchased and topped up at any metro (MTR) station.
Hong Kong is very compact and therefore easy to navigate on foot. In many places it is also advisable as there is much to take in while walking from place to place. Do be aware that the islands have numerous hills which make it more difficult to traverse, particularly in the summer heat.
Mass Transit Railway (MTR) – The MTR is the fastest way to get around the city. Lines connect different islands allowing you to cross them quickly. You can get to most places in Hong Kong via the MTR whether it being above or below ground.
Bus – Multiple companies operate bus service in Hong Kong and all take the Octopus Card. The bus is best used to go to and from the south part of Hong Kong and Lantau Island where the MTR does not go. Travel time is much slower thanks to traffic compared to the MTR.
Trams – Double decker trams do operate on Hong Kong Island. The most popular tram is the Peak tram that takes visitors to the top of Victoria Peak.
Boat – Ferry’s shuttle visitors between all the various islands. The famous Star Ferry travels between Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong Island. Included in the price of admission are impressive views of Victoria Harbour. Another popular destination is Lantau Island.
What To See
Hong Kong has an impressive slate of things to see and places to go. The small island state is packed with attractions. Many of the top sites involve taking in the wonderful and unique city skyline.
- Victoria Peak – Over 1,800 feet above Hong Kong, Victoria Peak is the most desirable destination in Hong Kong. For good reason.
- Victoria Harbour – Possibly the most iconic skyline in the world and also one of the most unique. No visit is complete without seeing the harbour from many different angles.
- Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park Theme Park – If you can tear yourself away from the city, Hong Kong has two popular and fun world class theme parks.
- Ngong Ping and Lantau Island – Get away from the bustling city and into a topical forest paradise. Don’t miss the opportunity to travel by cable car and take in the views it affords.
- Wong Tai Sin Temple – One of the best and most popular temples in Hong Kong. This is the place to come if you want to pray for good fortune.
- Avenue of the Stars – walk along the waterfront while taking pictures with statues of famous stars of stage and screen like Bruce Lee.
- Tai O Fishing Village – Traditional fishing village for those looking to see what Hong Kong used to be.
- Museums – The Hong Kong Heritage museum, science museum, and museum of art are some of the highlights. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen museum looks at the life of the man most responsible for shaping modern Hong Kong.
What To Do
- Shop in the markets – Markets a way of life in Hong Kong and should not be missed out on. The Ladies Market, Cat Street and Temple street night market are among the biggest. Speciality markets including a bird garden, goldfish market, jade market, and flower market are fun to browse through.
- Take the Star Ferry – The metro is the quicker way to travel between islands, but the Star Ferry is the most photogenic.
- Go the the Beach (Repulse Bay) – On the southern end of Hong Kong Island is the most traditional looking beach in Hong Kong.
- Take a day trip to Macau – Much more than the Asia Las Vegas, Macau offers culture, shopping, entertainment, and of course gambling.
- Eat – From cheap eats from street vendors to expensive but but amazing restaurants, there are plenty of great options. It has a well deserved reputation as a eating mecca.
- Festivals – There is almost always a special events going on. Chinese New Year, Spring Lantern festival, Ching Ming festival, and the Dragon boat festival is only a sampling of the variety of events that go on throughout the year.
- Parks – Hong Kong boasts some great parks right in the middle of the action. Hong Kong Park, Kowloon park, and Victoria park are all great options. The zoological and botanical gardens are also a great choice.
Hong Kong’s currency is the Hong Kong dollar. ATM’s are plentiful and offer the best exchange rate. Credit cards are widely accepted although American Express not nearly as much as Visa or MasterCard.
Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places to visit in Asia. Due to space contestants hotels are very costly. Still there are plenty of ways to save.
- Stay outside holidays such as Chinese New New Year in February or one of the many festivals when the city is near hotel occupancy capacity.
- Most of your budget options will be in Tsim Sha Tsui and Central.
- Book in advance. With the shortage of hotel rooms, you likely will not get last minute deals.
- Stay in a hostel or budget hotel. There are not many hostels but several budget hotels. Expect little more than a tiny bed in a bare bones room.
- Use Airbnb or guesthouses. Expect smaller living quarters than you are likely used to.
- Use hotel reward points. If you have hotel points you won’t get much better value than using them in an expensive city like Hong Kong.
Attractions And Food
- Most attractions are free or very cheap. The Symphony of Lights is one example of a popular free attraction.
- Shop in the markets. Bargains can be had and you can barter. Locals will usually start high and come way down quickly if you start to walk away.
- Go to the beach.
- Walk around the city. Enjoy the sights of this impressive city for free.
- Eat street food.
- Check out Tim Ho Wan. The cheapest Michelin star restaurant in Hong Kong has great food at a great price.
- Avoid the bars in Lan Kwai Fong. They are popular and fun, but drinks are expensive.
- Get an Octopus Card. It saves time and money over buying individual tickets.
- Don’t take a taxi. They are very expensive.
- Walk whenever possible. It’s free and you get to enjoy the city.
Getting The Most Out Of Your Trip
Things to know
- Being a former British colony, Hong Kong uses the United Kingdom 3 prong plug. Most hotels have adaptors, but be sure to bring your own.
- Tipping is not mandatory and locals rarely tip.
- They drive on the left. Even if you aren’t driving be careful when crossing the street.
- Personal space doesn’t exist in Hong Kong and many other crowded asian cities. Expect to be bumped into without an apology and its every person for themselves when trying too get on a busy metro train.
- Hong Kong strictly enforces many laws including those against littering, and eating or drinking on public transportation.
- There are many superstitions. Many buildings do not have a 14th or 24th floor as it is a bad luck number.
- Free Wi-fi is widely available throughout the city.
Things to avoid
- Don’t do too much. Hong Kong is expensive and there is so much to do. Know you won’t see it all and give yourself a reason to come back. Don’t rush your trip.
- Do not use drugs. This goes without saying anywhere, but penalties in Hong Kong are strict.
- Driving. It’s crowded and confusing as they drive on the other side of the road.
- Tourist scams. These include pick pockets, and overcharging for items you purchase.
- Don’t talk politics. Hong Kong is complicated politically. There is tension between the local and mainland Chinese government.
Time Saving Tips
- Buy tickets to attractions online in advance. You will save time and in many cases money for purchasing in advance.
- Make a rough itinerary. A little planning will allow you to be more efficient with your time.
- Book accommodations in advance.