|Hong Kong Stopovers|
Hong Kong, one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting urban areas and the meeting point of diverse cultures and civilizations, is a city unique unto itself. Its rich history as a trading port and the transfer of sovereignty between the United Kingdom and China have shaped it into an extraordinary blend of eastern and western cultures. Located in the heart of Asia and served by one of the world’s most excellent airports, Hong Kong is the stopover destination of choice for travelers flying long distances, such as between Europe and Australia or New Zealand. A short stay in Hong Kong is a sure way of recharging your batteries and experiencing a sojourn of a lifetime. There are few places in the world in which you can do and see so much in such a short period of time and Hong Kong is definitely one of the most all-embracing tourist meccas on the planet, offering countless attractions in terms of shopping, cuisine and entertainment.
In a recent Internet survey, Hong Kong International Airport was voted among the ten best airports in the world, occupying the fifth position. Major airlines, such as Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Qantas Airways, as well as a host of other carriers, operate regular flights to and from Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Americas. Since it is a recently-built airport, officially opened in 1998, it boasts state-of-the-art facilities and excellent ground connections to the city proper, including rail, bus and ferry shuttle services. The underground rail system is definitely the fastest way to travel around the city, but it is also the least attractive in terms of seeing the surroundings and the bustle on the streets.
It is important to note that Hong Kong has its own immigration policy that is very different to that of the rest of China. Hence, citizens of most western countries do not require a visa prior to landing in Hong Kong. Customs and passport control is among the most efficient in the world, so there is no need to worry about long and tiring queues. Everything has been designed for the convenience of the busy traveler who has no time to lose on pointless bureaucracy.
Where to Stay
You can explore Hong Kong and have an action-packed adventure even if your stay is shorter than one day. Such a busy schedule is guaranteed to wear you out just enough for you to be able to sleep like a baby for the rest of your trip. If you decide to stay longer than one day in this wonderful city, however, there are countless accommodation options available for all tastes and budgets. Being such an important financial and cosmopolitan center, Hong Kong has an abundant share of hotels and resorts. Your choice of accommodation in Hong Kong will most likely depend on the amount of time you have between flights and your budget.
For shorter stays, it would be ideal to choose a centrally located hotel so that you lose as little time as possible on public transportation and see and experience as many attractions as possible. Those that feel uneasy about staying in the heart of the city in fear of losing their flight have a superb airport hotel at their disposal. It suffices to say that the Regal Airport Hotel, linked to the principal airport terminal by a closed corridor, was named the Best Airport Hotel in the World for 2008 by the Business Traveller Magazine.
Other hotels recommended by stopover passengers include the Ramada Hong Kong Hotel, the Island Shangri-La Hotel and the Sheraton Hotel. The former two are located on Hong Kong Island, while the latter is situated in Kowloon. All three hotels boast excellent locations, minutes away by cab from the city center, and spectacular views of the city, and while the Ramada offers great value for money, the Shangri-La and the Sheraton are destined for the more affluent tourists.
Things to See
In addition to great shopping and entertainment, Hong Kong is also home to a vast cultural heritage. One of the most renowned cultural and religious attractions in Hong Kong is the Taoist Wong Tai Sin Temple dating back to 1921. It is situated in Kowloon on the southern part of Lion Rock Hill. Built in traditional Chinese, it attracts many worshippers throughout the year who flock to the temple to have their fortune told. The whole ceremony of the faithful kneeling before the altar, praying, receiving fortune sticks and lighting candles is very impressive and represents a stark contrast to the ultramodern skyscrapers and way of life in the financial district. While you are there, be sure to make a prayer, for the Wong Tai Sin Temple is famous for its high rate of answered prayers.
Another temple worth visiting is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Like its name suggests, it is a Buddhist temple featuring around 12,000 Buddha statues. Interestingly, monkeys are another frequent sight at this religious complex. The monastery extends over eight hectares and is located in the Sha Tin neighborhood in the New Territories area of Hong Kong.
If you are a history and art enthusiast, Hong Kong’s plethora of museums will certainly offer you many opportunities to learn about the city’s complex past. Among a large number of specialized museums to choose from, the Hong Kong Museum of History stands out for its rich collection and innovative manner of presentation. The museum boasts replicas of entire streets and enables the visitor a truly unique way of experiencing the city’s past. It is located in southern Kowloon in the Yau Tsim Mong District. It takes anything between one and two hours to see the museum’s collection and if you have time to spare, consider also paying a visit to the Hong Kong Science Museum which is situated right next to the Museum of History.
One of Hong Kong’s main tourist attractions is Victoria Peak, the second highest mountain on the territory, situated on Hong Kong Island. The mountain boasts the Peak Tower, a huge shopping center from which you can enjoy splendid panoramic views of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Victoria Harbour. It can be reached by tram or bus, the latter being the cheaper option. Victoria Peak is home to many public parks and the city’s most upscale neighborhood.
In Hong Kong, there is no value-added tax (VAT) and prices are thus considerably cheaper than in other places. The city has over the years gained the reputation of a haven for shoppers looking for good deals on designer clothes, electronic equipment, traditional Chinese medicine, and jewelry. Tourists looking to buy cheaper goods from open-air markets are generally advised to go to Kowloon, while those who want to splash out should head to Hong Kong Island. For electronic goods, pay a visit to Nathan Road in Kowloon which features a huge variety of shops. The biggest selection of trendy clothes and footwear can be found in Causeway Bay, located in the northern part of Hong Kong Island. Shopping malls and street markets are just about everywhere and are very similar to each other. Hence, the best idea is to head to the ones closest to your hotel in order to save time for other activities.
With over 10,000 restaurants to choose from, perhaps the most fascinating thing about Hong Kong is its dazzling variety of cuisine. Restaurants in Hong Kong serve dishes from all parts of China at affordable prices. There are also an impressive number of establishments where you can enjoy food from other parts of Asia, as well as western cuisine. The latter is unsurprisingly more expensive than the Cantonese and Chinese regional cuisine. You should make it a point to try some local specialties, such as fresh seafood and dim sum. The best choice of places to eat is in the districts of Wan Chai, Yau Tsim Mong and Central.
Things to Do
It is virtually impossible to get bored in Hong Kong. From sandy beaches and countless parks and gardens to horse races, casinos and theme parks, the city has a permanent and assorted offer for people of all ages and walks of life. Nature lovers may be surprised to read that Hong Kong is not all streetlights and bustle, but has an astonishingly large number of hiking paths, camping areas, fishing spots and parks. The territory’s natural landscape and diversity of wildlife is a well-kept secret, but there are an increasing number of birdwatchers and other animal lovers visiting the countryside. For excellent beaches and relaxation from the confusion of the city, take a trip to Lantau Island, Hong Kong’s largest and most intact island.
As you can see, Hong Kong is sure to provide you with an eventful stopover. Yet, you will probably only experience a small part of everything it has to offer, but this is the great thing about Hong Kong. It will leave you with the constant urge to return and you will always discover new and exciting parts of it. This is precisely why Hong Kong has become one of the most popular stopover destinations on the planet.