Hong Kong is divided into three main parts: HK Island, Kowloon peninsula on the mainland, and the New Territories, with some 200 smaller islands. This is truly a city where there is more than meets the eye. Much of HK operates below ground and within highrises, so there’s a real sense of awe and discovery. Malls, restaurants, clubs, and hotels may all reside in a single skyscraper. Addresses usually include a room number, floor, building name, street, and then district — in that order. Because HK island is built in a mountain, different “levels” are accessible by outdoor escalator. Despite being a dense urban center, nearly 60 percent of the city is lush tropical terrain with lots of parks, hiking trails, and verdant escapes.
IN AND OUT OF THE CITY
The best times to visit are spring and autumn through Christmas, when the weather is pleasant and the city rolls out the red carpet for citizens and tourists with wild holiday displays and light shows. Chinese New Year is fun but possibly a bit of a nightmare for Westerners, as locals get the entire week off from work to celebrate with family, making for a very crowded city. Avoid prime summer and typhoon season unless you are accustomed to 100 degree temperatures and 100 percent humidity (though air conditioning is ubiquitous).
Hong Kong International Airport might be one of the busiest in the world, but it’s also one of the most efficient. Locals know to skip tedious airport check-ins and don’t waste their time lugging heavy bags around town. You can do the same when you opt for the check-in services at the Airport Express stations on Hong Kong Island or in Kowloon. For afternoon, evening, or night flights, you can check in that morning and deposit your heavy luggage at the station, leaving you hands-free to explore the city for the rest of the day.
It’s awesome, efficient, and well-connected, even to and from Hong Kong International Airport. The first thing you should do once you arrive is buy an Octopus card, which acts like a debit card for all modes of transportation. Mobile phone reception is great, even in the depths of the MTR system (which is also spotless, fast, quiet, and very safe at night). Taxis are clean, plentiful, and relatively cheap.
EBB AND FLOW
Most people speak English or will at least know English names for streets and buildings because all signage is bilingual. If there is one colloquial chinese phrase people should learn, it’s ai-yaaah! — which can mean all sorts of things (oh no! oh shit! oops! yikes!) depending on the context.
CASH AND TIPS
A ten percent tip is added on to most bills, and tipping is not customary. Though it’s a good way to get rid of change jangling in your pocket.
STYLE AND ATTIRE
Though it is the land of suits and stilettos, there’s a growing hipster/artsy quotient, so feel free to express some individuality. Don’t forget to pack something appropriate for exploring the beaches, wooded trails, and tropical mountains in pursuit of the perfect vista and picnic spot.
It’s a good idea to make them when you can (even for lunch), as there are a lot of business meetings and a lot of die-hard foodies looking to snag the best seats in town. For some seats — like those at the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, tim ho wan — you'll just have to wait on line like the rest of us.
The best of the best exists on this small city footprint. Michelin stars and over-the-top supper clubs are part of the local palate, as are late-night noodle shops and divey-yet-delicious market stalls. Cantonese cooking is incredibly flavorful and very hard to find outside of Hong Kong. Dim sum reaches new heights of artistry and surprise. Jumbo shrimp, steamed fish, congee, rice noodles, pork buns, roast goose, century eggs with pickled ginger, and seasonal specials like hairy crab (tastes better than it sounds!) should be ordered often. Make sure to spend a morning at a cha-chan-teng (tea food hall) for milk tea and Western toast (fried pullman bread with butter and condensed milk). Street food snacks (squid balls, red bean paste-filled pancakes, curry ) can be tried between cheap foot massages and made-to-order suit appointments.
A WORD ABOUT SHOPPING
It’s a celebrated pastime here. Malls are underground and connected by walkways and tunnels. Major sale season is August and February (around Chinese New Year). International credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere. Once you find your way out of the maze of glass and steel and shiny escalators, you’ll find small shops, packed markets, antique alleyways, and charming indie boutiques.