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Hong Kong: Orientation

Visitor Information

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is an excellent source for travel information. Before your trip, check its website at

There are three HKTB counters in the arrivals hall of the Hong Kong International Airport, open daily from 7am to 11pm. In town, there are two HKTB Visitor Information & Services Centres, one on each side of the harbor. On the Kowloon side, there's a convenient office in Tsim Sha Tsui, right in the Star Ferry concourse, open daily from 8am to 8pm. On Hong Kong Island, there's an underground office in the Causeway Bay MTR station (F exit), open daily 8am to 8pm. It's rather inconvenient, however, unless you're in Causeway Bay; look for the F exit on Jardine's Crescent.

If you have a question about Hong Kong, you can call the English-speaking HKTB Visitor Hotline (tel. 852/2508 1234), available daily from 8am to 6pm. After-hours a telephone-answering device will take your call and a member of HKTB will contact you the next day at your hotel.

In addition to HKTB's free map, providing close-ups of Tsim Sha Tsui, the Central District, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay, HKTB publishes a wealth of free, excellent literature about Hong Kong. Visitor's Kit is a booklet that gives a brief rundown of Hong Kong's major tourist attractions and information on shopping and dining, while Hong Kong Museums & Heritage is useful for its information on museums and declared historical monuments and how to reach them using public transportation. Hong Kong Kaleidoscope outlines HKTB's current free classes and seminars in its "Meet the People" program. Discover Hong Kong by Rail is useful for trips to the New Territories, while Hong Kong Walks is designed for those who like to explore on foot. Business travelers should pick up Hong Kong Leisure Guide for Business Travelers (also available for PDA download at, while Hong Kong Family Fun Guide highlights children's sights and activities. In addition, invaluable leaflets are available showing the major bus routes throughout Hong Kong, including Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories, and for current ferry schedules to the outlying islands.

Travelers with mobile phones can have their own virtual guide by purchasing a Mobile Host PIN card for HK$60 (US$7.80/ţ4.30) at HKTB offices and more than 100 telephone retail shops in Hong Kong. Good for 3 days, the guide provides information on shopping, dining, and sightseeing venues, including how to reach them. It alerts participants to specific shop sales, gives information on seasonal foods and menus, provides a 3-day calendar of events, tells the weather forecasts, gives 30-second or 3-minute spiels on attractions, and links callers to useful telephone numbers and hot lines. You can access the same information without a PIN card by dialing *454, but international roaming charges will apply.

To find out what's going on during your stay in Hong Kong, pick up HKTB's free weekly leaflet What's On -- Hong Kong, which tells what's happening in theater, music, and the arts, including concerts and special exhibitions in museums. HK Magazine, distributed free at restaurants, bars, and other outlets around town (and aimed at a young expat readership), is a weekly that lists what's going on at the city's theaters and other venues, including plays, concerts, exhibitions, the cinema, and events in Hong Kong's alternative scene. Where Hong Kong, CityLife, and bc are other free magazines published monthly with information on Hong Kong. Where Hong Kong and CityLife are distributed to rooms in major hotels and are also available at HKTB offices. bc is distributed to bookstores and restaurants.

City Layout

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), with a population of 6.8 million, is located at the southeastern tip of the People's Republic of China, some 1,996km (1,237 miles) south of Beijing; it lies just south of the tropic of Cancer at about the same latitude as Mexico City, the Bahamas, and Hawaii. Most people who have never been to Asia probably think of Hong Kong as an island -- and they'd be right if it were 1842. But not long after the colony was first established on Hong Kong Island, the British felt the need to expand, which they did by acquiring more land across Victoria Harbour on the Chinese mainland. Today, Hong Kong Island is just a small part of the SAR, which covers 1,100 sq. km (425 sq. miles) and measures 49km (30 miles) north to south and 73km (45 miles) east to west -- much of it mountainous.

Hong Kong can be divided into four distinct parts: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, New Territories, and the outlying islands. On Hong Kong Island are the Central District (Hong Kong's main financial and business district and usually referred to simply as Central), the Western District, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay, all on the island's north side. Hong Kong Island is the home to such major attractions as Hong Kong Park, Victoria Peak, Stanley Market, Ocean Park, Aberdeen, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and several shopping malls, including Pacific Place, ifc mall, and Times Square.

Across Victoria Harbour, at the tip of Kowloon Peninsula, is Tsim Sha Tsui and its many hotels, restaurants, museums, and shops, as well as Tsim Sha Tsui East, and the Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok districts.

The New Territories are by far the largest area, stretching north of Kowloon all the way to the Chinese border. Once a vast area of peaceful little villages, fields, and duck farms, the New Territories in the past few decades have witnessed a remarkable mushrooming of satellite towns with huge public-housing projects. Sha Tin, with a population of around 620,000 and home of one of Hong Kong's two horse-racing tracks, is the largest; in all, the New Territories house approximately half of the SAR's population. And yet, much of the New Territories remains open and uninhabited. Close to 70% of Hong Kong's total landmass is rural, with 23 country parks and 14 nature reserves accounting for more than 40% of Hong Kong's land area. The fact that Hong Kong is more than just a city surprises many first-time visitors.

As for Hong Kong's 260 outlying islands, most are barren and uninhabited; those that aren't lend themselves to excellent exploration into Hong Kong's past. Lantau, Lamma, and Cheung Chau are three of the region's best known and most easily accessible islands, where a gentler, slower, and more peaceful life prevails. Lantau, boasting the world's largest seated bronze Buddha (located at a monastery noted for its vegetarian meals), is the most popular destination, accessible by ferry and cable car. Lamma is famous for its open-air waterfront seafood restaurants, beaches, pleasant hiking trail, and expat community, while Cheung Chau makes for a pleasant half-day excursion with its lively traditional village, boat population, and beach.

For the visitor, however, most hotels, restaurants, and points of interest are concentrated in the following areas: Tsim Sha Tsui, Tsim Sha Tsui East, and Yau Ma Tei on the Kowloon side; and Central District, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island. Because these areas are so compact, the city must rank as Asia's most accessible and navigable city. I'd argue that Hong Kong is also the most stunning, given the ferries, cargo ships, fishing boats, and ocean liners bustling in Victoria Harbour, juxtaposed against many peaks that punctuate the cityscape.

Main Arteries & Streets -- Hong Kong Island's Central District is larger now than it was originally, thanks to massive land reclamation. Queen's Road, now several blocks inland, used to mark the waterfront, as did Des Voeux Road and Connaught Road in subsequent years. Today they serve as busy thoroughfares through Central, since the steep incline up Victoria Peak follows close on their heels. From the Central District, Hennessy, Lockhart, Jaffe, and Gloucester roads lead east through Wan Chai to Causeway Bay.

It wasn't until 1972 that the first cross-harbor tunnel was built, connecting Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island with Tsim Sha Tsui East in Kowloon. In 1989 a second tunnel was completed under Victoria Harbour; a third tunnel was completed in conjunction with Hong Kong's new International Airport.

On the Kowloon side, the most important artery is Nathan Road, which stretches north up the spine of Kowloon Peninsula and is lined with hotels and shops. Salisbury Road runs east and west at the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui from the Star Ferry through Tsim Sha Tsui East along the waterfront. Also on the waterfront is the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade affording great nighttime views of neon-lit Hong Kong Island.

Finding an Address -- With a good map, you should have no problem finding an address. Streets are labeled in English (though signs are sometimes lacking in more congested areas like the Western District and Yau Ma Tei) and building numbers progress consecutively. For the most part, streets that run east to west (such as Des Voeux Rd. Central, Hennessy Rd., Lockhart Rd., and Salisbury Rd.) all have the even-numbered buildings on the north side of the street and the odd-numbered ones on the south. From Central, roads running through Wan Chai all the way west to Causeway Bay start with the lowest numbers near Central, with the highest-numbered buildings ending at Causeway Bay. On Nathan Road, Kowloon's most important thoroughfare, the lowest-numbered buildings are at the southern tip near the harbor; the numbers increase consecutively, with the evens on the east and the odds to the west.

Remember that the floors inside buildings follow the British system of numbering. What Americans call the first floor, therefore, is called the ground floor in Hong Kong; the American second floor is numbered the first floor. In addition, if you're trying to find a specific office or factory outlet in a big building, it's useful to know that number 714 means it's on the seventh floor in Room 14, while 2312 means Room 12 on the 23rd floor.

Street Maps -- You can get a free map of the SAR, which shows the major roads and streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, the Central District, the Western District, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay, from the HKTB. It should be adequate for locating most hotels, restaurants, sights, shops, and bars mentioned in this book. There are also free giveaway maps available at most hotels. If you want to explore Hong Kong in more detail, you can purchase an entire book with maps of the city region and areas in the New Territories called Hong Kong Guidebook, available at bookstores, but you probably won't need this. Online, electronic maps are available at and (click "ENG" or "English" for the English-language versions).

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