Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is a territory located on China’s south coast, bordering Guangdong in the north and the South China Sea in the east, west and south.
Hong Kong was a dependent territory of the United Kingdom from 1842 until the transfer of its sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. The Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of Hong Kong stipulate that Hong Kong operate with a high degree of autonomy until at least 2047, fifty years after the transfer.
Beginning as a trading port, Hong Kong emerged as a leading financial center in the late 20th century. Its highly capitalist economy is heavily based on service industries, and thrives under a long-standing policy of government non-intervention. Although the population is predominantly Chinese, residents and expatriates of other ethnicities form a small but significant segment of society. Influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures, Hong Kong’s multicultural identity is reflected in its cuisine, cinema and music.
Situated just south of the Tropic of Cancer, Hong Kong’s climate is subtropical. Summer is hot and humid with occasional showers and thunderstorms, and warm air coming from the southwest. It is also the time when tropical cyclones are most likely, sometimes resulting in flooding or landslips. Winter weather usually starts sunny and becomes cloudier towards February, with the occasional cold front bringing strong, cooling winds from the north. The most pleasant seasons are spring, although changeable, and autumn, which is generally sunny and dry.
The most effective way to know how Hong Kong people live is to observe the local life of an ordinary Hong Kong resident.
Go and visit a public housing estate and then a private estate on the same day and you can witness the differences between rich and poor in the city. Next, visit a fresh food market and a larger supermarket or “superstore” and you can witness the struggle between small retailers and corporations. Alternatively, go and visit one of the small shopping centres in Mongkok where you can see teenagers spending their pocket money on overpriced footwear and youth fashions.
Just wander and observe – and don’t worry – most areas in town are quite safe.
Get a stunning view of Hong Kong Island on Victoria Peak with the giant, wok shaped Peak Tower. The Peak Tram runs from Central to the bottom of the Peak Tower. There is no point in spending the extra money to visit the observation deck of the Peak Tower. There are a number of nice walks around the peak that quickly leave the tourist area behind and offer nice views of all sides of the island.
There are a variety of museums in Hong Kong with different themes, arguably the best museum is the Hong Kong Museum of History which gives an excellent overview of Hong Kong’s fascinating past. Not the typical pots-behind-glass format of museums you find elsewhere in China. Innovative galleries such as a mock-up of a colonial era street make history come to life. Allow about two hours to view everything in detail.
The racing season runs from September to June, during which time meetings take place twice weekly, the location alternating between Shatin in the New Territories and Happy Valley near Causeway Bay MTR station. Both off these races are easily accessible by MTR train but Happy Valley is the more convenient and impressive location, although live races only take place here on Wednesday night. For only $10 entrance fee, a night in Happy Valley can be filled with entertainment. Get a local Chinese gambler to explain the betting system to you and then drink the cheap draft beer! One good tip, take along your passport and you can get in at tourist rate of 1 HKD.
You are never far from the sea in Hong Kong and going to a good beach is only a bus-ride away. However, if you want a really good beach, then it is worth making the effort to travel, possibly on foot, and seek out the beaches of the New Territories. Hong Kong’s urban beaches are usually well maintained and have services such as showers and changing rooms. Where beaches are managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Dept. shark nets and life guards are present. Dogs and smoking are not permitted on these beaches.
Perhaps the number one highlight of Hong Kong is the cuisine. Not only is it a showcase of traditional and modern Cantonese cuisine, the various regional cuisines from around China, such as northern Chinese, Chaozhou (Chiuchow/Teochew) and Sichuan are all well represented. There are also excellent Asian and some fairly good Western restaurants as well.
Residents tend to eat out a lot more than in other countries. Because of this, eating out can be fairly cheap, as long as you stick to local restaurants, and avoid the often overpriced Western counterparts.
Whilst dining out, it is easy to find places offering mains for well under $80 offering both local and international food. Fastfood chains such as McDonald’s and Café de Coral offer meals in the vicinity of $20. Mid-range restaurants generally charge in excess of $100 for mains, whilst at the top end the city’s best restaurants (such as Felix or Aqua) can easily see you leave with a bill in excess of $1200 (including entrées (appetizers), mains, desserts and drinks).
Hong Kong has a highly developed transportation network, encompassing both public and private transport. Over 90% of daily travels (11 million) are on public transport, making it the highest percentage in the world. The Octopus card stored value smart card payment system can be used to pay for fares on almost all railways, buses and ferries, and also for car parks and parking meters.
The city’s rapid transit system, MTR, has 150 stations and moves 3.4 million people a day. The tramway system, serving the city since 1904, covers the northern parts of Hong Kong Island and is the only tram system in the world run exclusively with double deckers. Double-decker buses were introduced to Hong Kong in 1949, and are now almost exclusively used, with single-decker buses remaining in use for routes with lower demand or roads with lower carrying capacity. Most normal franchised bus routes in Hong Kong operate until 1 am. Public light buses run the length and breadth of Hong Kong, through areas where standard bus lines cannot reach or do not reach as frequently, quickly, or directly.
The Star Ferry service operates four lines across Victoria Harbour and has been in operation for over 120 years, providing a panoramic view of Hong Kong’s skyline for its 53,000 daily passengers. It is considered one of the city’s most treasured cultural icons and has been rated as one of the most picturesque ferry crossings in the world. Other ferry services are provided by operators serving outlying islands, new towns, Macau, and cities in mainland China. Hong Kong is also famous for its junks traversing the harbour, and small kai-to ferries which serve remote coastal settlements.
Hong Kong’s steep, hilly terrain calls for some unusual ways of getting up and down the slopes. The Peak Tram, the first public transport system in Hong Kong, has provided vertical rail transport between Central and Victoria Peak since 1888 by steeply ascending the side of a mountain. In Central and Western district, there is an extensive system of escalators and moving pavements, including the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, the Mid-Levels escalator.