Friday, February 28, 2014

The Corliss Group Travel: How to save cash in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is not exactly known for being cheap. The former British colony, perched on the shore of the South China Sea, frequently graces ‘most expensive cities in the world’ lists for its sky-high rents, acres of posh shopping malls, and dazzling displays of wealth (think Rolex shops on every other corner, women clutching Prada bags as they hail taxis, lapdogs in bejewelled collars).

But despite its glitz, the city still has plenty of bargains – provided you know how to find them. In general, Hong Kong Island itself is the most expensive part of town, while the Kowloon Peninsula across the harbour and the adjoining New Territories are gentler on the wallet.

Budget eats and bargain booze



The home to dim sum, brisket noodles, huge fluffy pork buns and other delights, Hong Kong abounds in budget eats. Wherever you go, the city has hole-in-the-wall restaurants with lines snaking out the door.
Unlike many Asian cities, Hong Kong does not have a huge street food presence these days. But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there – former street vendors now hawk their bowls of noodles, dumplings and braised chicken feet inside public ‘cooked food centres’. The unadorned concrete-and-tile design of these buildings can look a little forbidding, but they generally have produce, meat and fish markets on their bottom floors, and cooked food on the top.

Free sights



When it comes to free things, you can’t beat nature. Those who haven’t visited Hong Kong before are often shocked by how green the city is. Sure, downtown and Kowloon are snarled masses of concrete and glass high-rises. But some 60% of the city is preserved green space, and you don’t have to go far to find it. The city is famed for its hiking, with hundreds of kilometres of well-marked trails. The Dragon’s Back Trail, one of Hong Kong’s most glorious hikes, traverses Hong Kong Island, following the ridgeline south, offering panoramic sea views. It ends in the village of Shek-O, where tired ramblers can chow down on cheap noodles and watch the waves slap the rocks.

On Wednesdays, many of the city’s museums are free. The Hong Kong Museum of Art is one of the best, with a comprehensive collection of Chinese pottery, calligraphy scrolls and paintings. From the museum’s Kowloon location, take advantage of another one of Hong Kong’s best freebies – the ‘Avenue of the Stars’, a seaside promenade which offers cheesy tributes to local film heroes, but whose real star quality is its gleaming view of the Hong Kong Island skyline. Every night at 8pm, crowds gather here for the (free) ‘Symphony of Lights’, a music-and-light show illuminating the skyscrapers across the water. It’s silly and slightly bizarre, but good fun.

Cheap stays



Come bedtime, budget backpackers worth their salt should brave the infamous Chungking Mansions. This 17-story behemoth on Kowloon Peninsula’s teeming Tsim Sha Tsui district attracts people of such varied ethnicities, languages and clothing styles it’s earned comparisons to Star Wars’ riotous Mos Eisley cantina. On the ground floor, African and South Asian vendors hawk samosas and grey-market cell phones, while the higher floors are a concrete warren of restaurants, apartments, beauty parlours and budget guesthouses. Chungking House (www.chungkinghouse.com) is a longstanding favourite, with double rooms going for about HK$275.

Reasonably-priced guesthouses abound in the Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kong districts of Kowloon. Try Booth Lodge (www.salvationarmy.org.hk) a simple-but-clean spot run by the Salvation Army. A double will run you HK$1200.

Souvenirs for a song



If you’re yearning for some souvenirs, Hong Kong’s kitschy-cool street markets are chockablock with lucky cat statues, fake jade jewelry, vintage reproduction cigarette ads, fake designer handbags and more.

The Temple Street Night Market and the Ladies Market in Kowloon are perennial favorites, as is Cat Street on Hong Kong Island. Bargaining is both acceptable and expected. If you’re not happy with the price, try saying this: tai gwai la (Cantonese for 'it’s too expensive!').


Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Corliss Group Travel, Hong Kong: 10 Things to Do

Introduction

I was born and have lived most of my life in Hong Kong, and whenever I travel to the other two members of the Nylonkong triumvirate I see immediate connections. But if you really want to compare the soul of Hong Kong to that of another Western place, it's not New York or London. It's Sicily, of all places. Like us, Sicilians are islanders — tough and maritime. They have known colonization, revolution and emigration. They have their cosa nostra, we have our triads. Both the Sicilians and the Cantonese are obsessed with seafood, smuggling, secrecy and saving money. O.K., Hong Kong isn't The Godfather, but pay attention as you work through our list below: There's a hint of Palermo in the hilly, narrow alleyways of old Central and in the shirtless, tattooed men lounging in Kowloon doorways. The city of Hong Kong may rub shoulders with New York and London, but its feet still dangle in the brackish water of a sultry, southern port.

1.      Victoria Peak

If a single image could encapsulate Hong Kong, it would be the panorama from Victoria Peak. Looking down at the city from this famous vantage point, you'll see one of the finest harbors on Earth and a skyline so improbable, audacious and lofty that Manhattan's looks provincial by comparison.

2. Lin Heung Tea House

Proletarian clientele vie for shabby seats at shared tables as ceiling fans whir and an ancient wall clock keeps time — rather pointlessly, given that it's forever 1962 at the Lin Heung ("Fragrant Lotus") Tea House.

3. Charter a Junk

Everyone thinks of Hong Kong as a city, but in fact it is a sprawling archipelago of 260 islands. If you never see their rugged coastlines or deserted coves, and if you are never buffeted by the salty sea wind as it blows full pelt across a surging prow, then you will not know very much of Hong Kong at all.

4. The Intercontinental's Infinity Pools

Having a soak at the Intercontinental on Kowloon, is not a cheap proposition, since you will either need to be a hotel guest (about $350 and up per night) or a day client of the spa (which costs about the same).

5. Temple Street Night Market

This rowdy thoroughfare in central Kowloon starts at Temple Street's junction with Jordan Road, terminates five blocks north on Kansu Street and looks like every B-movie director's dream of Chinatown.

6. Heli-Tour of Hong Kong

Although a graceless 28-story extension has ruined the once elegant and low-rise contours of the 80-year-old Peninsula Hotel on Salisbury Road, one can be marginally forgiving because the said carbuncle houses the China Clipper — a swanky lounge that recalls the pioneering days of Asian flight.

7. Cha Chan Teng

In the boom years of the 1960s and 1970s, Hong Kong people demanded increasingly sophisticated dining options to match their swelling pocketbooks, and what they got was the cha chan teng. Under names like "The Gloucester" and "The Cherikoff," these neighborhood restaurants attempted to present a reasonable simulacrum of Western-style cuisine but in practice served heavily syncretic fare.

8. Star Ferry

Reclamation has reduced the journey length of Hong Kong's iconic cross-harbor ferry to a mere seven or eight minutes these days.

9. Chungking Mansions

When the local tourism board refers to Hong Kong as "Asia's World City" it's referencing the well-ordered worldliness of big banks, fine hotels and a philharmonic — not the worldliness of Bangladeshi hash dealers and Nigerian men trading used PCs by the container load. But this other Hong Kong can be found on the Kowloon peninsula, in the great sleepless citadel known as Chungking Mansions.

10. Roof of the IFC Mall

The landscaped rooftop of Central's waterfront mall, the glitzy IFC, is ringed with posh bars and restaurants. However, the resort-style sofas, tables and armchairs placed right outside those establishments are for the use of the public, and the restaurant operators have no jurisdiction over them.




Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Corliss Group Travel: Hong Kong's best restaurants, by Ken Hom

Ken Hom, the celebrity chef, recommends the best places to eat in Hong Kong in five courses



A typical brunch

At Din Tai Fung I had one of the best xiaolongbao – little soup dumplings filled with broth and served in a bamboo steamer – that I have ever had. There are lots of things from Taiwan and it’s popular because it’s cheap. You have to queue because they don’t take reservations, but it’s worth it. Go with friends, so you can try a nice assortment of dishes. The restaurant is part of the Din Tai Fung group, whose outlets have maintained great consistency. This one is on the Hong Kong Island side.

Din Tai Fung, Shop G3-11, 68 Yee Woo Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (00852 3160 8998, dintaifung.com.tw/en). Three courses £12-£15, without drinks.

Lunch

A really nice place to go for dim sum is Island Tang. It’s decorated in the old Hong Kong style of 30 years ago, so it has atmosphere. Lots of Chinese in the know go there. It’s the usual cast of characters – barbecued pork buns, steamed dumplings, stuffed peppers – but presented in an unusual way.

There’s also Nha Trang, which does Vietnamese food but in the spirit of Cantonese: very light, full of flavour, fresh. The pho noodles and the Vietnamese spring rolls are especially good.
Finally I would go to Yung Kee, an old restaurant that’s still very good and famous for its roast goose. They also make wind-dried pork and liver sausages which are slightly fatty and made with wine, so they’re very rich. All the fat goes into the rice, making it taste unbelievable.

Island Tang, Shop 222, The Galleria, 9 Queen’s Road Central, Central (2526 8798; islandtang.com). Dim sum lunch £23-£39. £Nha Trang, 88-90 Wellington Street, Central (2581 9992; nhatrang.com.hk). Three courses £15-£27.

Yung Kee, 32-40 Wellington Street, Central (2522 1624; yungkee.com.hk). Set menus, all including roast goose, £29-£49; à la carte, takeaway and “deluxe” set meals (seven to 11 lavish courses) also available .


Fine dining

My favourite place is Yan Toh Heen, which has a Michelin star. You get an incredible view of the harbour, all the fittings are jade, and the chef, Lau [Yiu Fai], deserves two stars for the refinement of his cooking. I had Peking duck with pears and grapefruit. The pears were slightly sweet so you didn’t need a sauce; the grapefruit was acidic, which cut through the richness of the duck skin. Genius.

Yan Toh Heen, InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon (2313 2323; hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com). Three courses £22-£229; signature menus £162-£255.

Amber, The Landmark Oriental Hong Kong, 15 Queen’s Rd Central (2132 0066; amberhongkong.com). Tasting menus £146-£224; three courses £101-£181.

An aperitif

The most popular place in the city is the Lobby Lounge at the InterContinental hotel, which has a panoramic view of Hong Kong island. It’s all glass, so people just sit and stare. Sometimes you don’t even talk to the people you’re there with because you’re gog-eyed, especially at night. The Chinese like it because it has good feng shui; I like to go for a dry gin Martini or a glass of champagne.

Lobby Lounge, InterContinental Hong Kong (details above). Cocktails £11.

Dinner

What I like about Kin’s Kitchen is that the owner is a food critic who opened a restaurant – and it’s good. He’s taken traditional, home-cooked Cantonese recipes which I haven’t seen in 30 years and made them popular again. The crispy chicken is the best you’ll eat. At the last minute they ladle hot oil over it, so the skin is super-crispy, the meat is moist and melting, and you dip it in a Szechuan pepper and salt mix.

Kin’s Kitchen, 5/F, W Square, 314-324 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai (2571 0913; kinskitchen.com.hk). Dim sum £1.90-£3.70 each; three courses £17-£34; set menus £49 and £99 for two and four people.

Wu Kong, Basement, Alpha House, 27 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon (2366 7244; wukong.com. hk). Three courses about £12, four-course hairy crab meal £31.