Story, photos by Kelly Kusumoto
Have you ever thought about a trip to China but found yourself intimidated by the cultural differences or the language barrier? It can be daunting, but there are a few things you should know before skipping Hong Kong for Europe… again.
Hong Kong is where East meets West. Only in Seoul and Tokyo will you find places in the Far East as open to us Westerners as Hong Kong. But unlike South Korea and Japan, Hong Kong was once under British rule. From 1842 to 1997 (with a Japanese WWII interruption), Hong Kong was a British colony. That means many of its inhabitants speak English. It also means a lot of Brits live and/or visit HK regularly. Many of the street signs, menus, public displays, billboards, etc. are in English. If you walk into a Starbucks, the barista – most likely a Chinese college student – will ask in proper British English if you would, “prefer a latté?”
You’re more likely to find English-speaking residents in Hong Kong than in Chinatown here in Philly. You’ll also notice that your Uber app works which means you won’t have to spend your exchanged cash on a cab and you won’t have to try to explain to the Cantonese-speaking cab driver where you’re trying to go.
And if English is not enough to lure you, many Hong Kong hotels now provide local smartphones to their guests so they don’t have to incur roaming charges. You can get tourist information, maps, weather, etc. without having to use your own data. Plus, I have been to HK three times and each hotel I’ve stayed at has been nothing short of awesome. The Shangri-La Kowloon, InterContinental Hong Kong, and Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Island are amazing hotels with breathtaking views of Victoria Harbour and the magical Hong Kong skyline.
Hong Kong is best known for three things: Shopping, food, and skyscrapers. If those are things you look for in a vacation, there might not be a better place than Hong Kong. Every subway stop leads to a shopping area. Whether it’s a giant mall like Times Square, IFC Mall, Elements, Pacific Place, or a local market like Ladies Market, Hong Kong has shopping for high-end travelers as well as travelers looking for the best bargains on the planet.
Not only is the local fare amazing, some of the top chefs in the world have restaurants there. The best dim sum is in Hong Kong and it’s not even close. And like pizza in New York, it’s good everywhere. One of the best restaurants I’ve discovered is a Japanese place called Mutekiya in the SOHO district off the Sheung Wan subway stop. And some of the best places have been local stands, especially in areas like Stanley or Causeway Bay.
And no trip to Hong Kong is complete without a cruise of Victoria Harbour. At night, the Symphony of Lights show plays every night. Lights choreographed to music brighten the harbor and entertain travelers while giving them ample time to gaze at, in my opinion, the most beautiful skyline in the world. One of the tallest buildings on earth, the International Commerce Center Tower houses Sky100, an observation deck 393m (1,289 feet) high, giving views of all of Hong Kong. Ride up the famous Peak Tram to Victoria Peak where you will never have a more spectacular view of a city anywhere.
But if shopping, food, and skyscrapers aren’t your thing, Hong Kong has much more to offer. There is Hong Kong Disney or Ocean Park for amusement and thrills. Visit Stanley, Causeway Bay, or Repulse Bay for beach life and a more small town feel. Take the Hop-on, Hop-off bus tours. They are very affordable and will guide you through the more important travel spots on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. For culture, take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car and visit the Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, or the Hong Kong Museum of Art in Kowloon. Find interesting nightlife, karaoke, and live music in Wanchai at places like The Wanch.
Hong Kong is full of things to do for travelers of all ages and best of all, it is very easy to find your way and explore this amazing city. I have been a few times and each time I come back home, I can’t wait to go back. The city and its people are interesting and wonderful. It is a place one needs to see and experience for themselves. So the next time you toy with the idea of visiting the Orient, set your sights on Hong Kong. You won’t be disappointed.