The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for China: David Allardice of Eastern Journeys.
A self-confessed China junkie who has been living there for 25 years, David left both Scotland and a career in banking to follow his passion and establish Eastern Journeys, a boutique company specializing in private journeys throughout China, including Tibet and Hong Kong. David works with a wide range of budgets and is reliably candid about which itineraries, sights, or hotels are overrated and not worth your time or money. He’s particularly skilled at managing the complicated logistics of traveling around the region but is also happy to help travelers interested in booking just day-trips in key cities (he has a diverse network of local and very charming private guides). He particularly enjoys organizing family trips: He’ll have you and your kids visiting kite-making shops in Beijing, then flying your new purchase on the Great Wall. David was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
The Peninsula Hong Kong, the grande dame of Asian hotels, is proudly located at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula overlooking Hong Kong Island. Splurging on a Grand Deluxe Harbor View Room is definitely one of life’s little luxuries and there’s no better place from which to watch sunrise, with the Star Ferry weaving its way across the harbor right in front of you. To add to the splurge factor, book the Peninsula’s Rolls-Royce transfer from the airport to the hotel—a truly stylish arrival! Because Eastern Journeys knows the senior management extremely well, we often get special rates at the hotel and other benefits. And be sure to let us know if it’s your honeymoon or wedding anniversary.
Restaurants the locals love
With various locations around the city, Tim Ho Wan is a winning combination of mouth-watering dim sum, a local teahouse-like atmosphere, and cheap prices. The steamed shrimp dumplings (har gow) are a specialty.
Be prepared to queue at Yat Lok Restaurant (34 Stanley Street, Central). Roasted meats are a Cantonese specialty, and Yat Lok has perfected roast goose, normally served with a bowl of freshly made noodles. You’ll probably have to wait, but for a true taste of Hong Kong at a highly regarded, great-value neighborhood restaurant, this is the place to come.
Meals worth the splurge
Lung King Heen, inside the Four Seasons Hotel, is the first-ever Chinese restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars. Its stunning harbor views add to the delicacy of the cuisine, and my recommendation is a lunchtime visit so you can indulge in some of Hong Kong’s best dim sum. Don’t miss the Baked Barbecued Pork Buns with Pine Nuts.
Bo Innovation serves cutting-edge Chinese cuisine from celebrated Chef Alvin Leung. Chef Leung wants to challenge people’s expectations, and boy-oh-boy does he succeed. Do not miss the Molecular Xiao Long Bau.
You may have had dim sum at home, but nowhere else in the world can compare with Hong Kong’s leading dim sum restaurants for freshness and subtlety of flavors. For great value, go to Tim Ho Wan (see “Restaurants the locals love,” above) and for a gourmet experience, try Lung King Heen (see “Meals worth the splurge,” above).
What to See and Do
Taking a helicopter flight over Hong Kong. Heliservices, Hong Kong’s main helicopter company, offers regular flight-seeing departures over the dramatic skyline of Hong Kong. This is without doubt one of the best ways to experience and understand the incredible density of Hong Kong while dispelling all notions that the city is just another concrete jungle. The sight of the unexpected swathe of greenery is just as impressive as the aerial view of all those skyscrapers so tightly packed together that you can’t help but wonder how the city can function.
Po Lin Monastery and Tai O Village on Lantau Island. Away from the hustle and bustle of urban Hong Kong lies Lantau Island, where you will find a slower pace of life and more traditional sights. Buddhist Po Lin Monastery and its traditional vegetarian restaurant is missed by many visitors and when combined with a visit to the traditional fishing village of Tai O makes for a great day out and one that lets you escape the tourist masses.
The Dragon’s Back hike takes you to the southeast corner of Hong Kong Island and offers spectacular views over the city’s iconic skyline and the South China Sea. There are shorter versions that take about an hour and longer versions that take four hours. Whichever you choose, finish the walk off with a casual lunch or drink at one of the cafés at Shek O Beach.
Heralded as the “world’s largest permanent light and sound show,” the Symphony of Light Show is no more than a few lasers and search lights that attempt to light up the dramatic skyline that frames the city’s iconic harbor. It takes place each evening at 8 p.m., but I personally think it’s a waste of time.
Lining up for the afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel. As much as I love showcasing Hong Kong’s colonial past alongside its edgier and more contemporary aspects, sadly, the daily queue of ragtag tourists takes away the ambience that should accompany such a ritual.
For only HK$2.30 (28 cents) you can travel almost the entire length of Hong Kong Island by tram, traversing an amazing cross-section of this city. The best route is between the terminuses at Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan; it’s about a two-hour journey. Get a front-row seat upstairs—this is the real Hong Kong!
For just HK$10 (US$1.30) get admission into the public enclosure for the Wednesday evening horse races at Happy Valley. Hong Kong has some of the top prize-money worldwide, and an evening here is an experience of Hong Kongers at play. Be prepared for some real excitement (the season is normally from September to June).
One of my favorite days out is to take to the water on one of the junks—traditional Chinese sailing vessels reinvented as pleasure boats—in Hong Kong Harbor. You can hire one for a private cruise around the harbor (perhaps with a feng shui master joining you to introduce this unique aspect of Chinese culture) or a longer day visiting a pristine beach or indeed visiting an Outlying Island for a slap-up seafood banquet at Rainbow Restaurant. There are numerous options, and this is certainly a unique way to experience Hong Kong. I’m in contact with many of the local junk operators and can easily arrange the outing for you.
March, April, October, November, and December. These are the months when humidity is low and Hong Kong’s weather is at its best, allowing you to take full advantage of all the city offers.
Chinese New Year. These are the only days of the year when Hong Kong totally closes down. The dates change every year, but the holiday always falls in late January or February and lasts about a week.
June, July, and August: the weather is hot, wet, and very humid.
Spending too short a time in the city. Hong Kong is routinely used as a transit stop as part of a China or Southeast Asia trip, but you’ll need at least three nights here to do the city justice. The food alone will make you wish you had more time: The city has some of the finest Chinese cuisine in the world.
Tailored garments. In my 25 years of living in Hong Kong the most commonly requested tip, by far, is for a great tailor. I always recommend Pete Fashions, behind the Peninsula Hotel on Peking Road. It isn’t one of those 24-hour cheap and cheerful tailors that’s seemingly on every corner—often they will ship the finished garments to you—but the prices are fair and the quality of the fabrics and service are exceptional.
Chinese tea can be as complicated a subject as the fine wines of Bordeaux, but it remains one of the most commonly purchased souvenirs. Of the city’s numerous tearooms my favorite is LokCha Tea House in Hong Kong Park, which sells both teas and tea wares, has a friendly staff on hand, and sensible prices.
The view of the Star Ferry crossing the harbor in the early-morning or late-afternoon light.
The incense candles at Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road.
The neon lights on Nathan Road. Go about 9 p.m., as you want it as busy as possible!
Be very careful in unlicensed electronics shops as the tactic of switching your purchase with something else, sadly, continues. The Hong Kong Tourist Board regularly updates its listing of reputable shops, all of which display the official logo.
Hong Kong’s airport is extremely easy to use, as is the Airport Express train, though if there are three passengers, a taxi will be about the same price.
Tipping isn’t a big deal in Hong Kong. An extra 10 percent in restaurants is normal; taxi drivers routinely get leftover coins.