in Hong Kong: some useful stuff
Here is some helpful stuff for your visit to Hong Kong. There is so much to cover in Hong Kong, that you can't get round everything, but with the help of your Guide in Hong Kong, Dicky Woollard, you will maximise the investment in time and money you have vested in your visit.
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR)
Hong Kong is part of China. Geographically it is on the Eastern coast on the Northern coast of the Pearl River Delta. It consists of Hong Kong Island, which is separated from the mainland to the north by Victoria Harbour. Across from Hong Kong Island is a district called Kowloon, and beyond that a larger area of land called The New Territories. There are also 260 plus other islands, called the Outer Islands. The largest island is called Lantau, and is where the airport is located.
The population is about 5.2 million
Octopus - Transport cash metro card
The octopus card is a must have travel accessory in Hong Kong. It costs $150 for adults, which includes a $50 deposit (refundable less a small admin charge) and $100 of useable credit. When your What's more, by using the Octopus card you GET AN AUTOMATIC DISCOUNT on the MTR. It is valid on the MTR, Airport Express, Busses, Peak Tram and can be used to make purchases in many stores (such as 7-11).
Airport Express - Linking the airport to Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Tsing Yi
The trains are clean, fast, efficient and very reasonably priced. At just 24 minutes from one end to the other, Airport Express is the fastest way to get into central Hong Kong from the airport. It has free wifi, and also offers a free bus shuttle service to many districts and hotels (http://www.mtr.com.hk/en/customer/services/complom_free_bus.html). If you buy a same day return ticket the return trip is FREE. Great for a stop over visit.
MTR - The subway, metro, underground, citylink....
Hong Kong is very proud of its MTR system, and rightly so. It is cheap, efficient, clean, modern, safe and has excellent connectivity. Use the Octopus card at the barriers for a hassle free experience (NB make sure only 1 card is used at a time - such as when passing children through the barrier. If the system detects more than 1 card it can cause problems!)
Busses - There are so many cheap, clean, safe, fast busses it is a great way to explore
There are several bus companies competing for your business, and they are all excellent. Whether you want to get to Victoria Peak (take the number 15 from Central) or want to explore the streets of Kowloon (the No. 1 leaves from Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry terminal) there is a bus that can get you there. By bus you see more.
Taxis - Red, Green and Blue
Hong Kong taxis are very competitively priced, so don't think you need to take out a loan to use one. It is one of the few cities where the licensed cabs compete on price with Uber. Notes:
- Most taxis are cash only
- Hong Kong Island red taxis CAN take you to Kowloon side, but they don't like to, because it is hard to get a fare for the return trip, and they will charge you double the tunnel toll charges.
- Not all drivers speak English. It is a good idea to get your destination written down (or on your phone) in Chinese. Many of the non-English speakers will phone a friend to get a translation - that's what is happening when he hands you his phone!
Trams (affectionately known as the "Ding Ding") - On the north side of Hong Kong Island
What a delight the trams are. Small, slow, and often hot, they are also cheap, quaint, double decked and a must do feature. You get on at the rear, off at the front, and pay to get down ($2.30 fixed rate adult fare for any length of journey - you can't say fare-er than that, boom! boom!)
Retail and Malls
Hong Kong is a shoppers dream destination, but not a great place to find a bargain. Most multinational brands have wised-up and offer the same (and often higher) prices than you will find at home. Some notable exceptions are photographic equipment (but you must shop around and know exactly what it is you are after); local and regional fashion, such as Shanghai Tang and Jeansmith; Smart Phones (ditto the advice about cameras). NOTE: many malls and other retail shops open late in the morning, some not until 11am, however they are usually also open until late evening as well.
Hong Kong is famous for its street markets, and you can find them everywhere. What are you after? Do you want to see where the locals buy their meat and veg? Or after a souvenir? On Hong Kong Island there is the Canal Road food market, Wan Chai's Cross Street Market, Stanley Market and Cat Street Market, to name a few. Kowloon is bristling with them, from the Jade Market to Temple Street Night Market. Tai Po Market in the New Territories, Sai Kung floating fish sellers, and Dried Fish Market in Tao O on Lantau Island.
There is not a lot or legal protection of shoppers, so check your goods. Some of the more high end shops offer a returns policy, but by no means all of them. If you are taken to a shop by a travel agent appointed guide, as part of a standard tour package, that has signed up to the tourist industry council, then you have 14 days to return goods with receipts and packaging. Otherwise - caveat emptor.
Hong Kong has a very wide variety of cuisines on offer, from pretty much every part of the World, in addition to Local, Cantonese, cooking. On Hong Kong Island the main cosmopolitan restaurant district is the Mid Levels, around the escalator, in SOHO. However, if you want to taste true local food you will want to explore further afield and be ready for an adventure.
The Chinese diaspora around the World has taken the Southern Chinese snack food of dim sum with them to every major city, sometimes called yum char (drink tea). Originally a snack food offered by street venders for breakfast, it is now served all day by many specialist restaurants and as a menu item at some others. The quality can be quite variable. Prices are usually cheap. Some regular dishes to get you going are Char Siu Bao (a steamed bbq pork dumpling), Har Gau (prawns in a rice dough wrapper), Sheu Mei (another steamed dumpling, usually with pork), and Wo Tip (often called pot stickers). Many restaurants are cash only. In most you may have to share a table. Servcie is often quite hectic. Food arrives when it is ready. Some restaurants have a trolley service for you to choose items from (as well as the menu). Some busy ones will give you a numbered ticket and you have to wait for your turn to be shouted out. Be quick! Have fun!
There are numerous noodle shops all over Hong Kong. Some serve only at lunch or breakfast and have queues of devoted eaters. Some of them can seem a bit intimidating, hectic, and appear to only have menus in Chinese, but most will have an English version (sometimes with higher prices as well), but if that isn't on offer - it's lucky dip - just point. As with the Dim Sum places most are cash only. Many serve no alcoholic beverages. You will need to share a table, and don't hang about. The food is cheap because the volume they get through service is very high
Vegetarian, Kosher, Halal, allergy conscious
Hong Kong is not very easy if you have specific dietary requirements. For those who are vegetarian or vegan there are a few specialist restaurants in the more cosmolitan areas, mainly in SOHO or Tsim Sha Tsui. Check the web site Open Rice (http://www.openrice.com/en/hongkong/restaurant/index.htm). There are several kosher restaurants (www.kehilat-zion.org, or http://www.jcc.org.hk). Halal restaurants are usually clustered around the South Asian communities in districts such as Tsim Sha Tsui, with several in Chungking Mansions). Allergies are more difficult to deal with, often because of the language barrier and often because the servers really just don't know, but will say "ÿes" anyway . Ask more than one person!
Service charges are included on the bill in most international cuisine restaurants, but the more local style do not add one. NOTE the servers do not often get this service charge or even a share of it. Only cash on the table gets to your server.... You can round up the bill, leaving your change for average service, give 10% or for very good service - cash!
Taxis on Hong Kong Island will expect a tip from a foreigner. Usually round up to the next whole $5 (i.e. a fare of $47 - pay $50). In the green taxis in the New Territories they are less expectant, as the locals often pocket all the change. The Lantau blue taxis definitely expect a 10% tip. At weekends you may even have to offer an extra bonus of $50 just to get them to take you at all, because there are too many people and too few taxis!
Tip based on the quality of the service. However, always tip with cash only. adding a tip to a card charge does not get passed on to the server very often. Concierge - yes, the same as any big city. Room service - yes, if the service is good. Porters - yes, tip $10 or $20. Limo or other private drivers - yes, depends on the quality of the service, help with bags etc. $50 from the airport or $200 for a day.