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Visit Hong Kong

HONG KONG is very much 'abroad'. Now that the near continent is easily accessible, countries such as France, Spain, Italy seem to merge styles and culture to become one generic Euro-Country. In contrast Hong Kong feels like a foreign country. It also has reminders of a colonial past, so your trip there as well as being a trip to a foreign country is also a trip into the past.

Hong Kong is also a brash mixture of Western and Eastern cultures, a meld of designer clothing, electronic consumables and Chinese superstitions. Modern apartment tower blocks, very Western in style and decor, do not have floor numbers ending in '4' as the number 4 in Cantonese is very close to the Cantonese word for 'death'.

You will also stand out as a tourist amongst the Chinese rather than being able to blend in with other Europeans as you would nearer to home. And unless you're an exceptional linguist there won't be any attempts to converse in Cantonese with the locals. But don't despair, thanks to its history and a large ex-pat community most Chinese, at least in restaurants and shops, will be able to speak English. Most of the street names and signs are in English as well as Cantonese.

The first thing you will notice about this lively place is its modern, efficient mass transit systems. Arriving at the new airport, Chek Lap Kok, you essentially walk in a straight line from gate through baggage & customs onto a (usually) waiting train that takes you right into the heart of Kowloon, a popular hotel and tourist district. For exploring further the subway system (MTR - Mass Transit Railway) is very cheap and clean with air-conditioned trains and stations.

Taxis are also plentiful and very cheap, thanks to the fact that most people do not run their own cars and rely instead upon buses, taxis and the MTR.

It is a good idea to get the name of your hotel printed onto a card in Cantonese so that you can make yourself understood to the taxi driver when you want to get back to your hotel.

You will also notice the fact that you are in the tropics. The climate is hot and humid, even at night. But air-conditioning is abundant, in fact on some streets you will probably be dripped on by water from the air-conditioning condensers attached to most every window of the buildings towering above the streets.

As a gweilo ('ghost people', the Cantonese term for pale-faced Westerners) you will be targeted on busy Nathan Road by the many street salesmen : "Copy watch, sir?", "Custom suit?", "Free drink?", "Jade rings?". Unless you are happy to part with your money for fakes, or buy clothing with a higher price tag than its quality merits, learn to ignore these people. Even saying 'No' is seen as a sales opening.

Hong Kong has much to offer everyone from sightseeing to shopping to eating to simply absorbing the atmosphere and mix of cultures this world-class city has to offer. Here are some must see places on your visit :

The Peak Tram is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction and definitely a must on any visit to Hong Kong. A furnicular railway takes you up The Peak for some breathtaking views of the Kowloon Penisular, Victoria Harbour and surrounding islands.

You can reach the Peak Tram station using the No 15C Shuttle Bus from the Star Ferry Terminal in Central or the No 12S bus from Admiralty MTR station. The Peak Tram runs every 15 minutes from 7am to midnight - views at night are equally breathtaking to see Hong Kong's sparkling panorama.

At the summit there are shops, restaurants and other attractions besides the 360 degree panoramic view.

The Star Ferry at Tsim Sha Tsui (pronounced Chim Sow Choi) for a few pennies plys back and forth across busy Victoria Harbour linking the Kowloon peninsular with Central and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island.

You can take the MTR from Kowloon to Central, but a trip on the ferry is a must for the experience and views of Victoria Harbour.

The Mid Levels Escalator, at 800m is the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world. It carries commuters between the prestigious Mid Levels residential area and the heart of Central Hong Kong.

Travel along it is free but beware it operates in one direction (down) during the morning rush hour then is switched to up thereafter.

Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei on the Kowloon peninsular is home to street hawkers eager to sell tourists anything from custom-made suits to copy Rolex watches.

At Yau Ma Tei, the Jade Market has plenty of the cool green stone carved into a myriad of shapes.

Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island. Spirals of insense burn to fill the temple with scented smoke that clings to your skin and clothes long after you have left.

Nearby is the famous Chop Alley (Man Wa Lane) which is lined with small green-painted huts where chop makers sell chops. A chop is a Chinese seal typically carved from jade, soapstone, bone or ivory. You can get the carvers to translate your name into Chinese for a custom-made seal. For a soapstone custom-made chop expect to pay around 15.

Shopping in Hong Kong

Central, Admiralty, and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, along with Tsim Tsa Tsui and Mong Kok in Kowloon are the main shopping areas. Shopping hours vary, but most shops are open until late at night, seven days a week. Shops are also open on public holidays, except during the Lunar New Year. However, shops in Central close earlier at around 6 p.m., but the other main areas stay open until 9:30 p.m.

Main shopping malls on Hong Kong Island include Landmark in Central, Pacific Place in Admiralty, Times Square in Causeway Bay, and City Plaza in Taikoo Shing. Kowloon also has its share of malls, which includes the linked Ocean Terminal and Harbour Centre complexes.

Kowloon

Bird Market
Yuen Po Street, Mong Kok, 10 minutes walk from Prince Edward MTR station.
Hundreds of song birds in cages of all shapes and sizes combine to make a noise

Nathan Road
Not a market, but there's a definte market-feel to the many shops that are crammed along the lower end of this street in Tsim Sha Tsui with their neon signs jutting out into the street from the buildings. Here there is everything from cameras, electronic goods, tailors to jewellery shops. Street hawkers will offer "Custom suit", "Copy watch", "Jade rings", anything and everything is available here.

Night Market
Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei
After dusk into late night a browse through this market is fascinating. There's everything from fortune-tellers to open air restaurants.

Ladies' Market
Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok
Open daily from noon to 10:30pm sells everything from fake designer accessories and clothing to cheap cosmetics and toys. It is also popular for late night snacks.

Jade Market
Kansu & Battery Streets, Yau Ma Tei
Open daily 10am to 3:30pm this market has jade objects in many different shapes and sizes. Beware though, not all of the objects are genuine jade, but if you're not too bothered you can get a reasonably priced souvenir.

Hong Kong Island

Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row)
Shops along this street are filled with a mixture of bric-a-brac, real and fake antiques and hundreds of stalls.

Western Market
Morrison Street
Opened in 1906 this red brick built building was a food market for more than 80 years. Today it has been restored and in 1991 became a shopping complex. It offers handcrafts, fabric and souvenir stalls.

Stanley Market
Stanley Market Road, Stanley, Hong Kong Island
Stanley Market is the perfect place to buy something special for friends or relatives. The historic fishing lanes are jam-packed with vendors selling Chinese artwork, silk collectibles and curios.

About The Author Tony works for Strathlorn Travel who specialise in travel for the independent traveller to destinations that are more 'off the beaten track'.
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