Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. It was formerly a British colony, from 1842 until 1997 when it was transferred to China. However, a Sino-British Joint declaration and the Basic Law of Hong Kong have given it the right to operate with a high degree of autonomy until at least 2047.
It is one of the largest and economically most important cities in East Asia. It is also a world financial center. Even though China is taking care of the foreign affairs and defense, Hong Kong has its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, immigration policy and delegates in international events and organizations. Hong Kong is located in the southeast corner of China, on the eastern side of the Pearl River delta. On the north it borders the Guangdong province, and on the east, west and south it faces the South China Sea.
Hong Kong is made of four parts: the Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and the Outlying Islands. The Hong Kong Island is the center of economy, politics, shopping and entertainment. Residential area lies on the Eastern Hong Kong Island. The Southern Hong Kong Island is best known for its superb bays and sea shores. The New Territories and the Outlying Islands are the best places to experience beautiful nature. The entire Hong Kong region comprises 262 islands and peninsulas. The name Hong Kong literally means ‘fragrant harbor’ because in the area today known as Aberdeen, fragrant wood and incense were once traded.
While Hong Kong is highly urbanized,it has nevertheless preserved much of its surrounding environment. It is encircled by green hills and mountains. Furthermore, as much as 40% of the city’s territory is nature reserves and parks. Hong Kong has a curvy coastline with many bays and beaches. Despite the extensive woods and the proximity to the ocean, the city’s air is amongst the most polluted, but luckily, environmental awareness is on the rise.
Hong Kong has a seasonal climate depending on the wind: half year subtropical and half year temperate climate. Spring and summer are hot, humid and rainy. Summer winds blow from the south, bringing wet season and humid warm air. Temperatures in the summer reach 28°C. Autumn is sunny, warm and dry. Spring and autumn are prone to typhoons. Winters (December to March) are dry and cool. February is the coldest month with the average temperature of 16°C and strong cold winds from the north.
January average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 27 mm rainfall February average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 44 mm rainfall March average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 75 mm rainfall April average temperature 20.5 deg Celsius, 140 mm rainfall May average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 298 mm rainfall June average temperature 26.6 deg Celsius, 399 mm rainfall July average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 371 mm rainfall August average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 377 mm rainfall September average temperature 26.6 deg Celsius, 297 mm rainfall October average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 119 mm rainfall November average temperature 20.5 deg Celsius, 38 mm rainfall December average temperature 16.6 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall
The modern and efficient Hong Kong International Airport, also known as Chek Lap Kok, is the main gateway into Hong Kong. It has many direct flights from every continent on Earth and also has frequent flights within major Asian cities. www.hongkongairport.com/eng/index.html
The Airport Express train service is the fastest and most efficient way of reaching the city/airport. The ride to the Central station takes 24 minutes. Services operate between 5:50 am and 1:15 am daily. Citybus has 5 buses from the airport to the most likely locations. Small shuttle buses connect to the MRT station from where you can catch the MRT train into the desired area of the city. There are also plenty of taxis. They are reliable and cost around HK$340 for Hong Kong destinations.
The MRT (Mass Transit Railway) is the fastest way of getting around in the city. The trains are fast, clean and safe. There are 5 lines. The most important for the visitors are the red, the blue and the orange line. Trains leave every 2-5 minutes. Services operate between 6 am and 1 am daily. www.mtr.com.hk/
KCR (Kowloon-Canton Railway) is efficient; it connects the east with the west part. Trains leave every 5-8 minutes and have good connections to the MRT. KCR has 3 main lines.
This is actually a funicular railway going up the hill from Central to Victoria Peak. The funicular offers splendid panoramic views. It leaves every 15 minutes and operated from 7:00 am to midnight daily. www.hktramways.com/en/home.html
The north part of the Hong Kong Island features the old-style double-decker trams. They move slowly but are very useful for short distances.
Hong Kong has an efficient network of double-decker buses. The drivers usually do not speak English, several companies operate the buses so there is no uniform website or map, so using them can pose a challenge.
Daytime traffic is congested so avoid using cabs at that time, especially in the areas around Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. They come in handy after dark and outside the before-mentioned areas. Taxis can be hailed in the street or called. There is a myriad of taxi companies and no uniform calling number. The drivers usually do not speak English so have your destination written down in Chinese.
Hong Kong's many islands are connected via a large fleet of ferries. The most notable is the Star Ferry line, an attraction in itself and a must-see. Services operate from morning until late night. www.starferry.com.hk/
Other ferry companies connect to the islands of Lamma, Lantau, etc. These depart from several ports, the largest and most important terminal, however, is at Central next to the Star Ferry. There are fast and slow ferries; the fast ones charge double fare.
Hong Kong’s most impressive bay is Repulse Bay in the southern part of the Hong Kong Island. It lies in a luxurious residential area which also offers superb dining, relaxation and a good selection of water activities. The golden soft sand on the beach and the azure water make for one of the most popular beaches for the tourists and locals alike. The water temperatures range from 16 to 26 C so the beach is a popular destination all year round. Equally great and popular is the Deep Water Bay. Both are accessible by cab in only 15 minutes from the Causeway. South Bay is a more secluded beach, also easily accessible by a cab.
You can take a ferry to one of the outlying islands. Hong Kong has over 200 islands, many of which are within easy reach of the city. Ferries to more populated islands depart from the Central Piers. The islands offer some superb seafood dining, picturesque fishing villages, beaches and hiking opportunities. Lamma Island is just 35 minutes from the city; Lantau Island is the biggest in the region and one hour away by ferry. Macau Island is 60 km west of Hong Kong. It has a rich architectural heritage and provides an interesting mix of Portuguese influence and Chinese culture.
The beaches in the area offer numerous water sports. You can decide for water-skiing, sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, and fishing (from a boat or at a reservoir). Equipment can be rented at the beach or at the hotels in Stanley and Sai Kung.
All facilities are members-only, but for extra money you are allowed to play for a limited time. The Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling, is a good place to join as a day member.
An easy scenic ride is the Tolo Harbour Cycling Track, which runs from Sha Tin to Tai Po. Bikes can be rented at all KCR stations.
Hong Kong has stunning countryside in close proximity to the city. The stunning scenery is diverse, from lush valleys, sub-tropical forests, rugged peaks, and coastal walks, to secluded beaches. It may come as a shock but nearly 70 percent of Hong Kong is countryside, where 40 percent have been protected as parks. You can get lots of information on various hikes at the Hong Kong Tourism Board web page: www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/touring/hiking/index.jhtml.
Web: http//www.thepeak.com.hk Phone: 2522 0922 (Peak Tram) Open: The Tram operates daily: 7:00 am - midnight Access: Peak Tram from Garden Road, Bus 15C
The Peak offers magnificent panorama of the city. The later you come, the better, as the city beneath you twinkles with a myriad of lights. The top can be accessed via the funicular railway, which is a scenic event in itself. You can also hike to the top which is 140 meters high above the tram terminus. The Peak is a popular destination, offering numerous ships, restaurants, activities and events. Check the website for current events. Originally the hill was a station in colonial times but later became an exclusive residential area.
WONG TAI SIN TEMPLE
Address: 2 Chuck Yuen Village, Kowloon Phone: 2327 8141 Open: daily: 7:00 am – 5:30 pm Access: MRT to Wong Tai Sin – exit B
Wong Tai Sin Temple is a Taoist temple, established in 1921, and is one of the most famous shrines in Hong Kong. It is dedicated to Wong Tai Sin, or the Great Immortal Wong who, at the age of 15 began following Taoism and attained enlightenment forty years later. People believe that he punishes evils, heals the wounded, and rescues the dying. He was also believed to know how to foretell the future. In the Temple fortune-tellers operate today. They are known to be very accurate. In addition the complex features a large pharmacy, and a beautiful park called the Good Wish Gardens.
The Big Buddha is the major attraction of Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau. It is the world’s tallest outdoor bronze Buddha. The statue, completed in 1993, is 34 meters tall and weighs 250 tons. It is situated near the Po Lin monastery and symbolizes the harmony between man and nature, people and religion.
Access: MTR (Central station, exit K)
The Statue Square is a popular gathering place in Hong Kong. The picturesque square is a pedestrian area and is surrounded by some of the city’s most magnificent buildings, including the HSBC headquarters and the Legislative Council buildings. During the WinterFest the square turns into a Santa Town: huge tree, Santa’s office, lodging, etc.
TSIM SHA TSUI
Address: Kowloon Island Access: Star Ferry from Central
This shopping paradise, also known as the Golden Mile is located at the very tip of the Kowloon peninsula. The area offers incredible shopping and dining options, in addition, it is one of the city’s most diverse locales. Apart from shopping frenzy you can indulge in tranquil parks, colonial architectural marvels and a number of museums and cultural centers. Here you can find Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Space Museum and Hong Kong Cultural Center. The area also boasts lively nightlife.
Address: South District, Hong Kong Island Access: Bus 7, 70 (from Exchange Square, Central)
The area, locate on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island, was a pirates’ haven 200 years ago. Here you can still find traditional boat dwellers – the Tanka boat people. The lively marina is filled with junks, sampans, kai do (water taxis), cruisers and yachts. It is also a great place to go for seafood or take a half-hour trip around the harbor.
Cuisine is undoubtedly on of Hong Kong’s highlights. The best way to describe the local cuisine is the fusion of East end west. Restaurants and eateries range from upscale to street stalls. You can find food for every taste and budget. Hong Kong offers traditional and modern Cantonese cuisine, as well as numerous regional Chinese cuisines. You can also find excellent Asian and Western restaurants. You will find friendly teahouses, lively street stalls, and numerous dessert houses.
Drinking tea is an important ritual in Hong Kong. Dim Sum is composed of many tasty courses of small quantity. It is usually eaten with tea for breakfast or lunch. There are almost endless varieties of dim sum. Typical dim sum dishes include spare ribs in black pepper sauce, steamed barbeque pork buns, deep-fried spring rolls, and steamed shrimp dumplings. Do not forget about the sweets. Try the delicious mango pudding or hot egg tarts.
It is advisable to make reservations, especially at the busiest times, around lunchtime (1 -2 pm), dinner time (7 to 10 pm) and at weekends.
Date: January/February Location: Wan Chai Harbour front
Hong Kong hosts one of the biggest New Year celebrations. It is a unique fusion ancient tradition and modern fun. Millions of people gather in the streets and celebrate together the thrilling event. There are dragon dancers, street performers, illuminated floats, and sporting events. The highlight of the festival is undoubtedly the spectacular night parade and the magnificent fireworks over the harbor.
HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL (YUE LAN)
Date: 26 August Location: various
It is believed that for one lunar month during the Hungry Ghost Festival the discontented and vengeful ghosts roam the earth, looking to find peace and satisfy their hunger. The festival is held in order to protect the living and to appease the ghosts. To do so, streets are filled with fancy religious parades, food is offered, fires are burnt where paper money and other items are burnt, in order to satisfy the restless ghosts. Local festivals feature Chinese opera. Popular venues are King George V Memorial Park in Kowloon and Moreton Terrace Playground in Causeway Bay.
Date: 25 September
This festival is one of the most charming events on the calendar. It commemorates the 14th century uprising against the Mongols when rebels concealed calls to rebellion, written on paper, in cakes. Today special cakes are eaten on this occasion: the Moon Cakes are made of ground lotus, sesame seed paste, and egg yolk. Colorful lanterns of all sizes and shapes are lit in public areas and parks. The festival is traditionally a family event.
DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
Date: June Location: Shing Mun River, New Territories
The festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, natonal hero, who drowned himself in the Mi Lo River 2000 years ago in protest to the corrupt rulers. According to the legend the townspeople tried to save him by beating drums and throwing dumplings in the water to scare the fish away. The highlight of the festival is a fierce dragon boat race. The lively spectacle includes teams of 20 paddlers racing in ornately carved, decorated and painted boats to the beat of a heavy drum.
Hong Kong has a vibrant nightlife. There is a myriad of nocturnal activities to choose from. You can take a night cruise over the Victoria Harbor, of visit one of the numerous bars, clubs or pubs. You can also decide for a stroll down the lively streets.
Bars and Pubs
The highest concentration of bars and pubs is in east Tsim Sha Tsui, Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai. Lan Kwai Fong is a trndy and very popular spot where you can find numerous restaurants, eateries, pubs and bars. Alcohol is available, as are bar spotrts such as chess and darts. Some bars have music bands. It is an area popular both by locals and tourists.
Essentially there are two varieties of nightclubs: western and Chinese. Western nightclubs (cabarets) cater to foreigners, whereas Chinese nightclubs are adapted versions for the Chinese. The entertainment and dining package is suitable for both business and family occasions. Performance includes singing, acrobat, folk dances and Cantonese Opera.
Discos are popular with the young crowd. They are mostly located in big hotels around Tsim Sha Tsui, Wan Chai, and Central. A few of them are: J J's (Grand Hyatt Hotel, Wan Chai), Cyber 8 Discotheque Pub (New Miramar Hotel Bldg., Tsim Sha Tsui), and Club Ing (Shopping Arc HK Convention and Exhibition Centre, Wan Chai).
The karaoke bars have mushroomed all over the city and offer drinks, dining and entertainment. Numerous hotels, clubs and bars offer separate room where guests can entertain themselves with singing.
Hong Kong's film production is the third largest in the world. You can try one of these cinemas: UA Times Square (G/F, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay) AND Chinachem (77, Mody Road, East Tsim Sha Tsui)
Night Park in Tsim Sha Tsui is a hugely popular night venue. The Park is flooded with neon lights. Here you can go dining, drinking, watch movies or stroll.
There is a number of night cruises on offer. You can choose from the Yue Mun Seafood Village Dinner Cruise, the Orient Dinner Cruise and A Symphony of Lights cruise, among others. These cruises make up for an exclusive nightlife experience where you can relax in the midst of the sea.
The area of today’s Hong Kong was inhabited already in the Stone Age. It became part of China during the Quin Dynasty. During the Tang and the Song Dynasty the region served as a trading post and naval base.
Hong Kong came into British hands in 1841 after the Opium wars. The conflict arose due to Chinese resistance to British opium produced in India. The increasing number of addicts and the drain of silver from China forced the emperor to ban the opium trade. As a result the British used force in 1830s and again in 1850s to keep the trade going.
After the First Opium War, Hong Kong was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. Additional conflicts followed and in 1860 Britain gained also Kowloon and Stonecutters Island. In 1898 the British acquired a 99-year lease of the New Territories which enabled them to protect the Hong Kong Island more easily.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
In 1911 the opium trade was ended. The trade of Hong Kong was progressing slowly through the 1920s and the 1930s. In the period between the wars Shanghai dominated the East Asian trade, leaving Hong Kong well behind.
In 1932 Japan seized Manchuria and in 1937 the Sino-Japanese war broke out. Throughout the late 30s Japan forces were advancing through China and many Chinese took refuge in Hong Kong. In the time prior to WW II the city’s population rose to 1.6 million, and an estimated 500,000 people were sleeping in the streets.
During WW II, on December 1941, the British surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese forces. After Japan’s surrender on August 14, 1945, the British reclaimed their hold of the territory.
In 1949 the Communists took hold of mainland China and thousands of refugees fled to Hong Kong. Its population swarmed to epic proportions, making Hong Kong one of the worlds’s most densely populated areas. The city faced problems of health, housing, crime and drug abuse. But at the same time China’s best industrialists, manufacturers and bankers fled to Hong Kong, establishing business in Kowloon. Soon Hong Kong was a major industrial center in textile and construction. Huge tower blocks were built and this rapid expansion caused much of the old colonial heritage to be lost forever.
In 1967 Hong Kong was swept by a wave of riots inspired by the Chinese Cultural Revolution. After some tension the relations between China and Hong Kong returned to normal.
In 1984 a series of negotiations brought about an agreement between Britain and the People's Republic of China that Hong Kong would become a special administrative region of China from July 1, 1997 when also the British lease expired. The policy was ‘One country, two systems’. Hong Kong was granted considerable autonomy, the existing social and economic systems would remain unchanged for the next fifty years.
The late 1990s, however, were a critical area for Asian economy. 1997 to 1998 was a time of Asian Financial crisis but Hong Kong bounced back already n 1999. In 2003 SARS epidemic, coming from China, hit the city. Hong Kong’s economy suffered a blow due to the measures taken to control the viral outbreak.
Today Hong Kong is still one of the major financial centers in the region. It has a strong economy based on textiles, clothing, tourism, and electronics. It also has the deepest container port in the world and a huge airport; the new Chek Lap Kok airport is twice as big as the JFK.
When locals greet Westerners they usually use a handshake. Note that a Hong Kong Chinese handshake is lighter that the usual Western handshake. Many Hong Kong Chinese lower their eyes when shaking hands to show respect.
Hong Kong has a conservative culture so wearing deep cleavages and sleeveless tops can cause anything from staring to comments. Public nudity is illegal so do not practice topless bathing at a beach.
Giving gifts in social or business situations has certain rules. If you receive a gift it is polite to also give one in return. Always give or receive gift with both hands, also, it is rude to open a gift in public, especially in front of the giver. The same rule holds for business cards, always receive and give a business card with both hands. Do not fold it of write on it. Give gifts in eights – it is a lucky number.
Chopsticks are the major utensil. Belching at the table is considered a compliment to the cook, so you are encouraged to do so. It is polite to leave some food on you plate after you finish eating to give the impression that plenty was served. Do not use your utensils to take food from the serving dishes, use the serving utensils instead, and never stick them in your mouth. If someone is pouring you tea, tap quickly on the table with two fingers (middle and index finger) as a sign of thanks.
Hong Kong is a safe city by the standards of large international cities. Petty crime is present but can be avoided by taking some common-sense precautions. Watch your purse and wallet at all times. Hold your bag in front of you on buses and trains. Be cautious when accepting drinks from strangers. There has been an increasing number of reports of spiked drinks.
Be wary in the city’s Country Parks – there have been reports of robber attacks on walkers. Stay on the marked paths and do not carry large amounts of cash or valuables with you.
Typhoons occur between May and November, and especially in September. There is a warning system, depending on their severity: signal number 1 means a typhoon has approached Hong Kong within 800 km, whereas signal 8 is issued when the storm is expected to hit. Signals 9 or 10 are issued depending on the intensity of the storm.
Emergency Phone Numbers: Police/Fire/Ambulance: 999 If Police violate their authority, request bribes or such, call the Complaint Against Police Office Hotline at 2866-7700.
The high season runs from October to late December, when the sky is clear and sun is shining. January to March humid and cool weather is prevalent, with clouds and rain most of the time. April and March can be either warm and bright or dark and gloomy, but in May, the weather is usually nice.
The lowest season runs from June to August when the rainy hurricane (typhoon) season kicks in. Expect low prices but also heavy rain and heat. Typhoons can be a big menace, often causing flood, damage and sinking of ships. During a bad storm, shops and transport shut down.
Visiting during the Chinese New Year (usually around February) makes up for an unforgettable trip. The streets are filled with millions of people, who all come to see the grand parade and the majestic fireworks display.