Hong Kong, China

Mystical Hong Kong is located on the south-east coast of the Peoples' Republic of China and is at the estuary of the Pearl River, in the South China Sea. At the centre is the Victoria Harbour, which separates Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island from Kowloon and the New Territories, that run up to the boundary with Mainland China. As well as being a large part of Hong Kong's land mass, the New Territories also incorporates more than 250 outlying islands, including Lantau Island, which is where the international airport is located.  With a land mass of 1,104 km2 (426 sq miles) and a population of seven million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hong Kong's population is 95 percent ethnic Chinese and 5 percent from other groups, including European descent.

Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839-42). Originally confined to Hong Kong Island, the colony's boundaries were gradually extended in stages to the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories.  It was temporarily occupied by Japan during the Pacific War, after which the British resumed control until 1997, when they relinquished jurisdiction and China regained sovereignty.  Hong Kong and Kowloon had been given to the UK permanently under the Treaties of Nanking and Beijing, signed in 1842 and 1860, and the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898, gave the UK control of the New Territories under a 99 year lease.  At the time of that lease expiring, it was impossible to separate the New Territories from the rest of Hong Kong and Kowloon.  After much discussion and negotiation, Britain agreed to handover control back to the Chinese Government.  The time of British rule had greatly influenced the current financial, corporate and popular culture of Hong Kong, often described as "East meets West", and the Chinese Authorities created new laws to make Hong Kong a Special Administrative Region, vowing not to change the area to the socialist regime operated in mainland China, but to keep the capitalist system for a period of 50 years.


Modern day Hong Kong is renowned for its expansive high-rise skyline, with huge skyscrapers with amazing designs and light effects, and a deep, natural harbour.  Most tourists base themselves around Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula, though nearby Lantau Island also has a lot of popular attractions, as well as the main international airport.


Wherever you decide to stay, everything is fairly easy to get to, as there is an extensive and well-run public transport system.


The MTR (Mass Transit Railway) is an underground rail system that covers a huge area, including out to the New Territories, and also a super-fast Airport Express service, which runs every 12 minutes and takes 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island.  The MTR is clean, reliable, reasonably priced and safe.  It is a good way to travel around and if you are staying more than a day or two, it may be worth buying an Octopus travel card, similar to the Oyster card used in central London, that gives you travel on the MTR and local buses.  Once loaded up with a monetary amount, you just wave the card over the reader, and it automatically deducts the correct amount for your journey.  For more information, you can visit the Octopus website.


The local bus system is vast, covering all of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Lantau Island and the New Territories.  Buses are frequent, reliable and cheap, and the air conditioning is welcome in the mid-summer humidity!  The only drawback is at peak time they can be busy and traffic jams can delay your journey; the MTR may be a faster option.


Trams operate around the main city areas but are very busy during rush hours and are not always fast at getting you to a destination.  A tram ride is fairly cheap, and is more of a fun experience rather than a means of getting from A to B!


Taxis are a very good value means of transport around the city, and the fares are lower than you would find in some other major cities.  They operate on a colour code system, so you will need to know in which area your final destination is, to make sure you get in the right taxi.  Red taxis serve Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, blue taxis serve Lantau Island and green taxis serve the New Territories.  Some taxi drivers do speak some English, but it may be helpful to have your destination written in Chinese, and staff at your hotel or Tourist Information Offices should be able to help with this.  One important restriction to note is that taxis cannot pick up or drop off passengers on some restricted streets, and these are marked with yellow lines.


Minibuses are mostly run by independent operators and may be difficult to incorporate into your travel plans, unless you are fairly familiar with the city or the area where you are travelling.  They can stop anywhere, much like a taxi, but the routes may change according to the traffic situation.  Depending on each bus, you pay on boarding or on leaving, with the exact change for the route travelled.  For most visitors, this is more of an experience rather than a means of getting anywhere in particular.


Getting across the Harbour can be an attraction as well as a necessity. Other than road bridges, the Star Ferry connects Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and has done since 1898, though they have updated the ferries since then!!  Now they are modern vessels, with two decks, runs up to 11.30pm and takes approximately 8 minutes to make the short but scenic crossing.  The upper deck offers the best views, especially at night, when the lights shine across the Harbour, and costs only a few HKD each way.  Other ferries and modern jetfoils also operate from Hong Kong Central ferry port, and go to many of the outlying islands, if you fancy exploring.


Whether you take the MTR, bus or taxi to your destination area, you can walk around most tourist and shopping areas safely, even at night, and really explore everything Hong Kong has to offer.


The city of Hong Kong is famous for its shopping and there is no shortage of expansive luxury shopping malls as well as numerous thoroughfares full of street venders and canvas-covered street markets.  Shopping hours are usually Monday to Friday - 10am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday - 10am to 8pm.  Banking hours are more restricted and major banks are usually open from 9am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 12:30pm on Saturday.  Hong Kong Island has a huge number of shopping choices.  You can buy anything here from designer fashion and jewllery, chinese art, curios and souvenirs to beautifully decorated silks, discount fashion clothing and antiques and collectibles.  Causeway Bay is one of the most popular areas with tourists and offers everything from big department stores to small boutiques and street stalls.  There are several shopping malls, including Fashion Walk, Lee Gardens, Times Square and World Trade Centre.  In the Central district, apart from the masses of skyscrapers, there are many glass and marble shopping malls offering world famous designer names, including The Landmark, The Galleria, Prince's Building, Alexandra House and The IFC Mall.  For more local shopping, there are numerous street markets and bazaars all over the island, such as Western Market, in Sheung Wan, 'The Lanes'; 2 parallel streets with covered stalls, Ap Lei Chau, and Stanley Village.  In Kowloon, there is just as much great shopping, including factory outlets along Granville Road, Canton Road, Nathan Road's Golden Mile, Harbour City (the largest shopping complex in the area), Elements Shopping Mall, Yau Ma Tei street markets, Mong Kok street shopping and the unique shopping experience of a 'shopping ship', the Whampoa, which is 'moored' in a former dry dock, plus many other shopping experiences around the area.  Lantau Island has a huge selection of shops in the SkyMart and Sky Plaza areas at the International airport, as well as other modern shopping malls, on the island and around the New Territories, such as Citygate Outlets, a short taxi ride from the airport, Maritime Square at Tsing Yi, New Town Plaza at Sha Tin MTR station, TMT Plaza in Tuen Mun in the north west New Territories,


Eating is a seriously enjoyed pastime in Hong Kong and there are so many bars, restaurants and street vendors to choose from around the city.  The variety of Chinese food is huge, from delicious dim sum, Chinese barbecue and rice and noodles, to the freshest seafood, traditional chinese tea houses and classic Szechuan cuisine.  Almost any cuisine you want can be found somewhere in the city, if you don't want Chinese food, but it would be a shame to go to Hong Kong to eat another nations' food!!


Nightlife in Hong Kong is bustling and vibrant, with nightclubs, bars and restaurants on almost every street and every shopping area.  To find out what's hot, visit a local website, www.hkclubbing.com, and plan your evenings before your go.


There are so many things to do, visit and experience, when you've had enough shopping.  Surprisingly, there are huge areas of parks and green belts around all areas of Hong Kong.  The government is very keen on going green, and there are many projects around the city to 'green up' the area.  Almost 80% of the territory is parkland or green areas.  On Hong Kong island, there is the 50km Hong Kong Trail, a well-laid out walking trail, linking five country parks together. Wherever you are, it is easy to get out of the urban metropolis, and within half an hour be surrounded by lush sub-tropical greenery. There are walks for all abilities taking you through small villages and lovely beaches, and Victoria Peak, in the centre of Hong Kong Island, is easily accessible to anyone.  From the Peak, you can see some of the most luxurious homes in Hong Kong and dramatic 360 degree views of the whole island and the harbour, especially stunning at night when the city's neon lights shine brightly below and across the harbour.  A visit to the Hong Kong Disneyland, on Lantau Island, is good way to entertain the child in you for a day!.  There are many temples, Bhuddhist monasteries, the famous Giant Buddha statue, museums, art galleries and many traditonal historical buildings, too.  The outlying islands are also worth visiting, if you want to to see a different, quieter side of Hong Kong.  Islands like Lamma and Cheung Chau, easily reached by ferries, offer quiet beaches, great seafood restaurants, winding walking trails, rugged hikes and no cars!


Time permitting, another place to visit that is slightly different, is Macau.  A World Heritage Site, Macau is another island and peninsula area that, until recently, was under Portugese rule and is famous for the many Vegas-style casinos here.  But it is also a wonderfully historical place to visit, with cobblestone streets, and mixture of interesting Chinese and Portugese architecture.


If you are staying for a longer vacation, then Hong Kong is a great starting point to visit mainland China, which is easily accessed by frequent air links, efficient rail services and some of the world's largest fleets of high-speed ferries.  Visas are not necessary for most nationalities for staying in Hong Kong for less than 180 days, and passport expiry 6 months after your departure date, but to travel into mainland China a vias is required.  This usually takes 3 days from the Chinese Embassy, and you will need to provide a passport photo with your application.


Hong Kong is 8 hours ahead of UK time (GMT/UTC) and the local currency is the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD).  HKD have a set exchange rate with the US dollar, of HKD7.80 to USD1.00, but is flexible against the UK pound, though it does tend to be fairly stable around 10-15HKD to GBP1.00.  Currency is issued as 10, 20, 50, 100. 500 and 1000 HKD notes, and 10, 20 and 50 cent coins.  Most major credit cards, Mastercard/Visa, Amex, Diners and JCB, are widely accepted in most shops, restaurants and even some of the street vendors, too.


Weather in Hong Kong can be warm up to very hot, and is fairly humid all year round;


Spring (Mar-May) temps - 18-27C (64-80F) 82% Humidity, occasional mist & rain showers

Summer (May-Sep) temps - 26-33C (79-91F) 86%+ Humidity, some heavy rain during Jul-Sep.

Autumn (Sep-Dec) temps - 18-28C (64-82F) 72% Humidity

Winter (Dec-Feb) temps - 14-20C (57-68F) 72% Humidity


Electrical supply in Hong Kong is 220 volts AC, but plug sockets are the same as the UK.  An adapter may be necessary to alter the voltage, and they are readily available in local shops.


In case of emergencies, there are many Police Officers and Police Stations around the city, and most of them have staff that are experienced in helping tourists.   Another similarity to the UK, is the emergency phone number; 999, just the same as home.


The Hong Kong Tourism Board has a very comprehensive website, with lots of information, suggestions and useful tips to getting the most from your trip, and is well worth visiting before you go.


So, whether you are travelling on a business trip, a short stopover or a longer vacation, Hong Kong offers so much to explore and experience.


Photos provided by kind courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

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Excelsior, Hong Kong

Excelsior, Hong Kong

The Excelsior Hong Kong is a luxurious hotel in a great location on Hong Kong Island.

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