|Hong Kong tourist information tourism
An Indispensible Guide for Visitors
to Asia's Rip-off City
|When should I visit?
The period from October to April, when there is relatively little rain and low humidity. October-December is very pleasant. January and February can actually be quite cool (as low as 45F / 7C).
Don't even think of setting foot in HK from May-September, which is the rainy season. During June-August in particular you can expect torrential downpours that seem to last for days, sweltering heat (90F / 30C) and high humidity.
Is HK still a "shoppers' paradise"?
No. During the 1960s, HK acquired a reputation for cheap watches, electronics, cameras, etc. Those days are long gone. Unless you are from Japan, or a place with very heavy sales taxes or import tariffs (like Mainland China), you might even be better off buying such items at a discount store in your own country.
Never buy anything from the glitzy-looking electronics and photography stores in or around Nathan Road, in Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. You have a good chance of being ripped off. Never go into any store that does not put prices on goods displayed in the window. To price consumer goods, go to the locals' shopping malls like Cityplaza (Taikoo Shing) or Festival Walk (Kowloon Tong). Fortress, a reliable chain of electronics/camera stores, is as cheap as you'll get. [Disclosure: the author owns shares in the developer of these malls and in the owner of this chain, but the HK domestic economy being highly cartelised, you won't find better. Unfortunately.]
Is everything else expensive?
A lot of things, especially in the downtown areas. Hotels, haircuts, restaurant meals, a coffee, drinks in bars, etc are all much pricier than in most parts of the US or UK. There are various reasons. The government's land policy keeps property prices high, and this feeds into high rents and other business overheads. There is no pro-competition or anti-trust policy, and cartels have stitched up large parts of the domestic economy. Finally, there is a short-term, "fast buck" mentality among some traders, especially towards visitors who are just passing through for a few days.
Is anything good value?
If you try to live like the locals (ie avoid the central areas and the tourist-oriented outlets) you can live reasonably. Public transport (taxis, metro, buses, ferries) is cheap. Food in small local restaurants can be excellent value. Markets like Temple Street and Stanley sell cheap if tatty clothing and touristy items. Pirated goods (DVDs, software and designer label junk) can be cheap, but they are even cheaper in Shenzhen (most things are). Prices in restaurants, bars, etc are distinctly lower away from Hong Kong Island/Tsimshatsui.
Is the air pollution really bad?
Yes. The sort that ruins the view across the harbour is caused by industry, traffic and construction in Mainland China. It drifts to HK when the wind conditions are right and is outside HK's control. The rest of it is caused by local traffic. The situation could be improved through pedestrianization and other measures, but the government can't be bothered. Bring a gas mask.
So what is there to see and do in Hong Kong?
Keeping your wallet firmly in your pocket, simply look around one of the loudest, brashest, busiest, most crowded but nonetheless civilized cities on earth. Marvel at how such a place actually functions on a day-to-day basis. Try disentangling the first world from the third world aspects of the place, and the British and western influences from the Chinese. In other words, just "be" there. A fun way to spend a day is to get an Octopus Card (mass transit stored value ticket) and just get on any bus that comes along. Go upstairs and watch the street scenes. When it gets to the terminus, get on another, etc etc. HK is also a glutton's delight – try out-of-the-way Beijing, Szechuan, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and other regional restaurants.
Not to be missed - The ugly and bizarre in Hong Kong
- Gwailos smoking and staring vacantly into space with their mouths open
Place: Pacific Coffee, IFC Mall Time: 8-8.30am, weekdays
- People chopping live chickens, fish and other creatures to bits in a residential street
Place: Wet markets Time: Early-late everyday
- Suicidal-looking orang-utans in a nasty 19th Century-style zoo
Place: The Botanical Gardens Time: Early-late everyday
Are there good specific places to visit?
The view (when there is one) from the Peak is a must. Stanley is a tiresome tourist trap. Temples, if you've never experienced Chinese houses of worship before (a big improvement on the Vatican – chat, go topless, take photos, eat ice cream, no-one cares). Cheung Chau Island is pleasant. Not that far away from the city, you'll even find mountains, swamps with water buffalo and beaches, but no-one will ever visit HK for the countryside. Theatre, music, etc are largely second-rate.
There is little left of historical interest – Government House would make an excellent museum, but they keep the whole place unused and locked up out of post-colonial shame. Hollywood Rd Police Station is, of course, open to the public. Modern architecture ranges from stunning to awful.
What about language, culture and all that?
Most people speak Cantonese, but they do not expect foreign-looking people to be able to do so (too bad if you're Chinese-looking). English is the second language, spoken by maybe 25% of the population to some degree. Don't assume that people will speak it (taxi drivers, for example) and you might be pleasantly surprised. If you need to ask for directions, avoid the young, the elderly, the slovenly and the shy-looking. Well-dressed women in their 30s-50s – the secretary type – are probably the most likely members of a typical crowd to speak English. People are mostly friendly, unless they're in an obvious hurry. Pushing and shoving is standard on sidewalks and public transport – it's not personal.
Is it safe?
Very. Violent crime against strangers is extremely rare. HK is virtually unique among major cities in that you can walk around after dark in safety. As in all crowded places, guard your valuables.
|Hong Kong in Summer|
|HK Shopping – Don't bother|
|Plenty of Minerals in the Air|
|Government House – No Tourists Allowed|
|The HK Tourist Board|
|An exceedingly lame quasi-government organization that tries to force a non-existent Hong Kong down visitors' throats. Although they have come to terms with the demise of rickshaws, they still live in a world of bargain-hunting and lion dances. Recent achievements include the erection of ugly US/European Chinatown-style gateways on streets, on the assumption that tourists expect to see such things. Boss Selina Chow is a member of the so-called Liberal Party, which opposed legalization of parallel imports and other anti-rip-off, pro-consumer measures.|