If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation in a bucolic setting, do not—repeat, do not—go to Hong Kong. There are few places on this planet as teeming with humanity—at peak hours, in some parts of the city, the simple act of walking down the street takes just about forever. Sensory overload is constant, quiet is nearly nonexistent—except perhaps in the parks, where tai chi is practiced (and even then the cicadas are deafening). And then there’s the weather: When we visited, in the dead of summer, the heat never let up and the humidity was so oppressively high that camera lenses often fogged within seconds of being taken out of their cases. Torrential downpours arrived unexpectedly, drenched everything in sight, and disappeared, often within minutes.
If, however, you are interested in an endlessly fascinating, stimulating, affordable, visitor-friendly introduction to Asia, don’t mind bumping into a few people now and then, and understand that this isn’t the place to go if you just feel like lying on the beach with a drink in your hand, Hong Kong will not let you down.
Our decision to make this our vacation destination was somewhat impulsive. Looking to expose our six-year-old son to a noticeably different place, my wife and I considered the more obvious options (various European capitals, Mexico), but within hours of discussing possibilities—and because neither of us had ever traveled to Asia—our thoughts turned eastward. Japan was tempting but too costly, Vietnam, Beijing and Bangkok too imposing to consider with a child. Hong Kong seemed ideal: with English nearly ubiquitous, a foolproof transportation system, an abundance of restaurants catering to every taste (and many Häagen Dazs shops to keep the little guy happy), and plenty to see and do, this legendary city beckoned. We were apprehensive about the 16-hour flight from (and back to) New York, but in the end (massive jetlag aside), that was a piece of cake for all of us.
We had heard that, since the 1997 handover of the region from England back to the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong had become economically unstable and tough times had set in. If that is so, we saw little blatant evidence of it. Being a relatively compact city, with nowhere to expand but upward, new building is rampant, bamboo scaffolding growing on seemingly every block. And in the afternoons, when work lets out, fashion-conscious, gadget-loving Hong Kongers appear to have only one thing in mind: spending their income. Both the modern shopping malls and the more traditional local markets fill up quickly, and should you choose not to enter a store voluntarily, an employee stationed on the sidewalk will do his best to change your mind. Every restaurant we frequented was doing a brisk business as well.
Perhaps the reason shopping and dining out are such favored pastimes is because Hong Kong seems to be sorely lacking as a cultural center. Museums, for example, are few for such a populous city, and not especially compelling (although we thoroughly enjoyed the Museum of Art). And although there is no shortage of nightclubs, the majority feature DJs or karaoke—finding a venue offering quality live m
| Travel notes|
HOW TO GET THERE:
Continental Airlines offers a non-stop from Newark: 1-800-231-0856. United, American and China Airlines also fly to Hong Kong
WHERE TO STAY:
Expensive: Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon: 852-2920-2888. (Even if you can’t afford to stay at this grande dame, drop by for afternoon tea.)
Moderate: Kimberley Hotel, Kowloon: 852-2723-3888. (This is where we stayed. Clean, comfortable, active, accessible. Has an in-house health spa and massage center.)
Moderate: Salisbury YMCA, Kowloon: 852-2369-2211. A cut above most Y’s, with many amenities and an ideal location. The choice for many families on a budget.
WHERE TO EAT:
Bo Kong Vegetarian Restaurant, Causeway Bay, HK: 852-2506-3377 (One of many fine restaurants located inside a major shopping mall. Really.)
Song, Hollywood Road, Central HK: 852-2559-0997 (Innovative Indochinese menu.)
Light Vegetarian Restaurant, Jordan Road, Kowloon: 852-2384-2833 (Try their mock meat dishes—see this issue’s Cuisine story on same for more info.)
Sabatini Ristorante Italiano, Mody Road, Kowloon: 852-2733-2000 (World class Italian in Hong Kong? You’d better believe it. But be prepared to pay for the pleasure.)
Branto Indian Pure Vegetarian Food, Lock Road, Kowloon: 852-2366-8171 (Easy to miss, up a flight of stairs, some of the best Indian vegetarian we’ve ever tasted.)
MORE INFORMATION: Guide Books: Time Out Hong Kong (Penguin), Fodor’s Hong Kong (Fodor’s), Frommer’s Hong Kong (Frommer).
Websites: Lonely Planet (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_east_asia/hong_kong/index.htm)
Asia Travel (http://www.asiatravel.com/hkinfo.html)