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We visited this interesting city in January of 1996 before it became a part of The People's Republic of China.
For all of my adult life I made myself a promise that Id someday see the city of Hong Kong. Planning our 25th anniversary around the world trip, I made it a point for us to visit Hong Kong. We came away with two separate opinions of this incredible city. Its beautiful but the people, in general, weren't a very nice bunch.
We stayed at the Regent Hotel in Kowloon. Back then it was the Regent, anyway. It's now the InterContinental Hong Kong. It sits directly on Victoria Harbor and the backdrop of our room was Hong Kong Central. The view was absolutely incredible looking across the harbor at Hong Kong Central. Just past the vast harbor were hundreds of huge, high-rise buildings starting on the ground and perched up the mountainside. The water traffic was enough to keep me glued to the window. More about that later.
The Hotel is often voted the best business hotel in the world by travel magazines and we were picked up at the airport in a Daimler limo. The driver was nice but upon checking into the hotel we got "this look" from the desk staff. They said with their eyes: "Oh wow, look at this riff-raff. Wonder if their credit cards are any good?!"
Unfortunately we found the people of Hong Kong to be rude...VERY RUDE...and while I suspect that most of them spoke English, NOBODY we ran into spoke it very well or tried to talk back to us. Even our driver from the hotel (we arranged for a guided tour) didnt communicate very well at all and didnt seem eager to try. Entering restaurants, hostesses were fast moving and seemed downright irritated when we didnt nearly run to the table with them. Having said that about the people, the city itself was incredible.
There's plenty of sightseeing to do. There are temples, cemeteries, and some streets that specialize in a certain type of food like seafood, for instance. We took a tram up to Victoria Peak on the Hong Kong Central side and the view was breathtaking. The famous Star Ferries have been cruising to and from Kowloon and Hong Kong Central since the 50s and are one of the great bargains of the world. For about 30 cents you can ride first class on the upper deck of the old green and white ferries. For a mere 15 cents or so you can go regular class down below.
They've moved to the brand new, state of the art Chek Lap Kok airport now but on our trip we landed at the old and infamous Kai Tak airport. Unfortunately our Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 landed at night and therefore did not shoot the famous "checkerboard" approach used during the day at the airport. The night time pattern is "straight in." The daytime approach had jets fly directly toward a visual red and white checkerboard pattern on a mountainside. Just as they got right up on it they would take a dramatic right hand turn and then descend rapidly for a quick touchdown. At one point jumbos seemed to cruise just a hundred feet or so over buildings.
Just sitting in the hotel room looking at the harbor was out of this world. Its got to be one of the busiest harbors in the entire world. Everything from huge container ships to the littlest of Chinese junks constantly cruised by our panoramic window 24 hours a day. They off-load ships right in the middle of the harbor using special unloading ships. Hydrofoil ferries, jet ferries and every kind of boat launch you can think of race from once side of the harbor to the other. Helicopters do the same thing carrying rich people, I guess. Fog constantly rolls in and out of the harbor. One minute the sun is out, the next you can hardly see a thing. It was incredible.
We went over to Aberdeen Harbor for lunch at the world famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Its (as I recall) four stories tall and is a gaudy red, gold, yellow and you name it color on the outside. What you do is take a little water taxi from the parking lot out to the restaurant. Once inside, we got the same rudeness we had encountered elsewhere in Hong Kong. They were serving dim-sum (which is kind of like a Chinese buffet on wheels) and we were on a time limit so I didnt know if wed have enough time to dine if we waited for all the carts to come our way. When I asked the waiter if they had menu service he practically threw the menus on the table. This is what I mean about the rudeness!!!! But the food was good and the experience we had after the meal was most interesting.
What we didnt know was that there were two separate water taxi routes from the restaurant. One went a few hundred yards directly to shore to the parking lot where we wanted to go and where our car and rude driver were waiting. The other went probably a mile down the harbor to the town of Aberdeen. We got on the Aberdeen route leaving the restaurant by mistake and at first we were a little worried wondering where in the heck we were going. The boat driver didnt speak any English so we just stayed cool figuring that the boat would have to return to the restaurant, which it did after going to the Aberdeen dock. That extra trip was wonderful. That was the real Hong Kong with REAL motorized Chinese junks everywhere. The boat people live in that area. They live on their boats and everything comes to them. We saw a floating grocery store heading from one boat to another. Nowadays the kids go to school on shore (they used to grow up ENTIRELY on the water on boats) and locals take turns picking them up on the dock to take them home to their floating houses! It was a great experience seeing the people up close and personal on that little mistaken boat ride.
One negative thing did happen. One woman was operating a junk and trying to lure tourists to jump off the water taxi and onto her junk for a ride----for a fee, of course. The driver of our water taxi shouted something in Chinese, gunned the water taxi and rammed her junk causing some damage to the junk. Was the woman menacing? Sure. But to ram her???? RUDE. See what I mean! Theyre PRETTY high strung over there!!!
Hong Kong reverted back to the Chinese in the summer of 97 and the people were VERY WORRIED about the switchover when we were there. You could feel the tension and itll be interesting to see if the Chinese screw it up. So far, though, things have gone quite well.
While we didn't have much time to do any serious shopping, Hong Kong has traditionally been a shoppers paradise with many bargains to be found. I've read accounts of people actually covering the cost of their trip with the savings of goods purchased in Hong Kong. This was before the Chinese takeover so you might want to do some homework before planning your shopping assault.
My bottom line to you if youve considered a pleasure trip to Hong Kong is---DO go. But be prepared for rude treatment. Also this suggestion. Instead of flying to California and going from there, why not head from east to west? Take a flight to, say London or Zurich....rest up for a night...then catch another plane to Hong Kong. It may be a little easier on your body. Your time clock will be messed up, though, because theres a whopping 12 hour difference between times if you live on the east coast of the U.S. So when its 5am here the day is already done in Hong Kong where its 5pm! Its funny with us, though. Weve NEVER noticed any jet lag at all on any of our trips to Europe, the South Pacific or around the world. We notice fatigue, thats for sure. We dont have any secrets. All we do is set our clocks on the time of our destination as soon as the plane takes off and start thinking about the new time and when we get there if were tired, we sleep a few hours and then adjust to the new time hitting the sack at the normal time (I mean if we usually go to bed at home at 10pm then we go to bed in Hong Kong at 10pm their time.)
If you do decide to go the east to west route by all means check with your airline on RTW fares. That stands for round the world. The way we did it was in cahoots with "our" airline, Delta along with Swissair and Singapore Airlines. You can go around the world first class for less than the price of a first class ticket from Chicago to London alone! You usually have 6 months to complete your journey with unlimited stops and must continue in the same direction with some small reversals possible in Europe and Asia. You're even allowed to make changes in your plans along with the way for a nominal charge for each change. Special RTW business and coach fares are also offered. Why more people don't know about these is beyond me.
I must put in a good word for Singapore Airlines. Without question, Singapore Airlines is the best in the world, in our opinion. Would you believe that flight attendants still believe in personal and caring passenger service? If the rest of the airlines were even half as good as Singapore, air travel would be a pleasure.
Currency is still the Hong Kong Dollar. Driving is on the left. A passport is a must but a visa is not necessary because Hong Kong is an SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China. By the way -- when we were there, the Hong Kong immigration officers were some of the toughest we've encountered anywhere in the world. And I'm talkin' immigration and not customs officers. They were polite but SLOW and thorough. Make sure you jump through all the hoops and have all your papers in order. You absolutely must be stamped in and out every single time you come and go. This was menacing on our trip because this applied to side trips to China and Macau before the Chinese absorbed Macau and Hong Kong.