A quick guide to one of our favorite destinations
The eclectic mix of Hong Kong residents from all over the world has sparked the name “Asia’s World City.” The two most significant influences here are from the Cantonese region of China and Great Britain — having been a British Colony for over a century! The location of Hong Kong has made it part of both ancient and modern trade routes. This city is an important destination, popular with tourists and business travelers alike. An early morning Tai Chi session with the locals in a park in Central can start the day, and a late-night snack at an outdoor food stall at the Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon before going to bed can finish it. In between, take a 30 U.S. Cent ride on one of the least expensive public transportation networks in the world: the Star Ferry! We are certain you will find another ten interesting things to do in this world-class city without any trouble!
Unique things we have discovered about Hong Kong!
- In Hong Kong, architects create skyscrapers using Feng Shui design elements. There are more skyscrapers in Hong Kong than any other city in the world!
- Hong Kong means “Fragrant harbour” in the local Chinese dialect. Since it has once again become part of China in 1997, it was named the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, or Hong Kong SAR.
- It is considered good luck for Hong Kong residents to eat noodles on their birthday. Many choose to visit a “Dai Pai Dong” to enjoy this blessing for a long life! These noodle shops are all over Hong Kong, and the inexpensive food and tea are popular even with international visitors!
- In Central Hong Kong Island, there are escalators that help local business workers get to and from work. Most paths have only one escalator — up in the morning, down in the afternoon! It is the fastest way to reach many of the newest skyscrapers in the hills.
- The Hong Kong harbor (spelled “harbour” in British English still today) is one of the largest in the world. The Cunard steamship Queen Elizabeth, having visited the harbor many times in its career as an ocean liner, ended up sinking here in 1972, after being purchased by local businessman Tung Chao Yung — and renamed Seawise University. It took two days to extinguish the fire that started aboard — partially capsizing the ship. The ship was not fully salvaged from the middle of the harbor until the late 1990s!
- Harkening back to British times, Hong Kong boasts the highest number of Rolls Royces per capita in the world! A large fleet of these serves as the courtesy vehicles for The Peninsula Hotel — one of the top addresses in Hong Kong. The hotel is located right across the street from the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon side.
Hong Kong: Getting there – The International Airport at Chek Lap Kok!!!
Aviation fans will fondly remember two short words: “Kai Tak”! Hong Kong’s first “airfield” started as a grass strip in southern Kowloon, along the edge of the Hong Kong Harbour. The famous approach over the housing units of Kowloon City — with significant noise pollution as well — was last used in 1998, when the new Hong Kong International Airport opened. Also known as Chek Lap Kok Airport, the IATA Airport code is HKG. This airport functions 24 hours a day, employs over 60,000 employees, and is one of the world’s largest passenger airports! It is also the largest cargo handling airport in the world!
When the airport opened in 1998, the passenger terminal was the largest in the world. The construction was also the most expensive project in aviation history at the time, costing well over $20 billion U.S. Dollars! Today, it is still the third-largest airport terminal after Dubai and Beijing.
The cargo hub at HKG is called Super Terminal 1, and after some initial growing pains, it quickly became the largest cargo operation in the world. In 2019, over 65 million passengers departed from HKG. Due to COVID-19, only a small fraction of that number used the two departure terminals and 90 boarding gates in 2020. The airport is also partly closed now until 2024, as the airport uses the opportunity to make some construction improvements.
The airport is located west of Hong Kong Island and north of Lantau Island, about 40 kilometers or 26 miles from the central business district.
Airport Lounges at HKIA
HKG has some of the world’s best premium passenger lounges! Unfortunately, all but two are now closed in this pandemic time.
The Wing, a Business and First Class lounge operated by Cathay Pacific, is located near gates 1 to 4. This lounge is currently the only airline-operated lounge open at the airport. It is supposedly available to all passengers who have lounge access as part of their ticket or airline status. It is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to after the last departure in the evening. There are the usual exclusive lounge amenities: drinks, snacks, and meals, all delivered to you by lounge staff. There are also ways to get online and or print as needed, showers to refresh between long haul flights, and even quiet areas with a comfortable recliner seat! Children also have a small play area, and adults and children alike can enjoy great runway views! All business class flights to Hong Kong include this access.
There is a private “pay-to-enter” lounge for those who depart without arranged lounge access (for instance, those traveling in economy class). It is possible to pay to access this lounge before departure. It is located near Gate 1. Sometimes there are good deals to pay on the spot for a seat in the lounge when it is quiet. This lounge is also open all day until the last departure.
Getting there and away
Transportation options from the airport to the center vary greatly in price depending on the destination address. From the airport, the closest destination is Lantau Island, followed by addresses in Kowloon. To the north, the New Territories are larger, and it takes longer to reach some isolated corners there. Other stops are on Hong Kong Island, including “Central” (the business district), and other stops beyond. Aberdeen and Stanley are also destinations on the South China Sea side of Hong Kong Island.
The fastest way to get to the center is with Airport Express. This train service stops at three main areas: Tsing Yi Station, Kowloon Station, or Hong Kong Station in Central. The longest trip is 24 minutes, and the maximum price for a seat on this train is 110 HKD one way, 205 HKD return ($18 and $26 respectively) for adults. Children receive a 50% discount. You can pay the fare at the Airport Express service counter in the arrivals hall before heading to the platform to depart every 10 minutes.
There are many different bus routes that head to most neighborhoods in Hong Kong. These double-decker buses are the same as those popular in London. Buses can provide a scenic option and are better deals — with the most expensive option being under 50 HKD ($6) one way. There are some A-numbered “Airport” buses that even allow you to hop online while onboard and have more comfortable seats.
It is important to select an Official Airport Taxi at the taxi stop location. While it is the most expensive option, they are convenient and will accommodate up to four adults for the meter price of from 250-350 HKD ($32-45) plus all applicable road tolls. Select a Red Taxi for Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, a Green Taxi for the New Territories, and a Blue Taxi for Lantau Island. There are radio taxi agents as you leave baggage claim that will call and book a taxi, sometimes providing good offers. Make sure to understand all the terms and conditions, including confirming that you are not taking a ride-sharing offer — where the taxi is more like a shuttle bus.
No matter how you get away from the airport, it is important to remember to depart for the airport early enough in the event that there is unexpected traffic en route. We suggest business class passengers arrive to check-in three hours before their flight is scheduled to depart.
Interesting facts about Hong Kong International Airport
- Landing in Air Force One, a few hours after the opening ceremony of the airport, President Bill Clinton became the first foreign visitor to land at the new airport on July 2, 1998. The airport opened to the first commercial traffic a few days later, on July 6.
- The land reclamation that took place over the ten years before the opening of HKG increased the land area of Hong Kong by over 1%!
Gateway cities from the USA to Hong Kong
Early in 2021, the Hong Kong Government implemented a new quarantine requirement for flight crews returning to Hong Kong. As a result, the flag carrier Cathay Pacific has been forced to severely reduce its current destination count and flight frequency. Their flight crews are now working 21-day “shifts” and then quarantining for the mandatory 14 days in a hotel in Hong Kong before returning to their homes. The crews have been flying multiple round trip itineraries “back to back.”
Cathay Pacific is the only airline currently operating nonstop flights to/from the United States. There are only a few flights per week to New York JFK and Los Angeles from Hong Kong. These flights are being operated by A350-1000 and B777-300 aircraft. Some 777 aircraft are equipped with four classes of service: First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy Class, and Economy Class. It used to be possible to book a flight to many other American cities before COVID-19: San Francisco, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Seattle to name a few. The faster flights to Hong Kong resume, the faster we will begin to see more cheap business class flights.
Other international carriers are flying to Hong Kong. Three carriers, including British Airways, are currently serving Hong Kong from London. There are also many flights today between the powerhouses of the new Asian economy: Hong Kong and Singapore. Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are serving this very popular route. There is also much cargo carried around the world, not just business and first-class passengers!
It is possible to find cheap flight options with a stop in Asia, before continuing on to the United States. Travelers can choose flights via Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo airports on a variety of outstanding airlines. Business-class tickets are very available, but some Economy Class flights are sold out. There are very few first-class flights, with most airlines concentrating on improving and expanding their Business Class offerings.
Of the U.S, Carriers, both American Airlines and United Airlines served Hong Kong nonstop before the pandemic. Those flights were suspended in February 2020. We assume they will once again fly to Hong Kong by the end of this year.
Flights from Hong Kong to the West Coast of the United States are in the air about 12 ½ hours on average eastbound, 14 ½ hours westbound. A flight to New York is about 14 ½ hours in either direction. Tickets to Hong Kong via other cities in Asia can increase transit times to 20-25 hours and include the connecting time.
Want to explore beyond Hong Kong? Other destinations: Macau and China!
There are more flight deals to Macau, located just across the water about 50 miles from Hong Kong! Another former European Colony, Macau has become a gambling business mecca that has left Las Vegas to pale in comparison. Some of the largest casinos in the world are here — when considering the size of the hotels/casinos, spending of tourists on gambling, and other elements of the economy. Macau benefits from the same central location as Hong Kong, and it is a short flight from a significant percentage of the world’s population. Before Macau experienced the casino boom, their economy was bolstered by the tea trade and a few future UNESCO World Heritage sites, having selected the entire Historic Center in 2005. The important sites include the Ruins of Saint Paul’s.
The airport in Macau has specialized in economy class travel deals — particularly when you book seats to regional destinations. These include Manila, Singapore, Taiwan, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and others. There is a new overland connection — the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. It is the world’s longest fixed open sea link, with several bridges and tunnels along the 55-kilometer or 35-mile route. There is a bus terminal on either end and good access between both international airports. There are also sea connections between these two unique SAR’s, though, not between the airports directly.
China, one of the most populous countries and largest countries in the world, is a destination that is impossible to see on one trip — it would be necessary to return many times! China is accessed from Hong Kong via Shenzhen, an industrial center growing quickly. The closest traditional city is Guangzhou. It is possible to fly domestic flights to the rest of China from these airports, but it is almost impossible to find cheap flights into China from HKG, as that is considered an international route.
Sightseeing in Hong Kong, top things to discover
There are many places to include on a visit to Hong Kong. These are some of the best, in our opinion! The limitation is only how much time you have to be able to visit all of the following places:
- Take the Peak Tram (or far cheaper City Bus number 15 under $1.50 USD each way) to the observation center at the top of Hong Kong Island! The bus passes by some of the richest neighborhoods on Hong Kong Island. Once at Victoria Peak, take a look at the panorama of Hong Kong Harbour! Try to arrange this trip on a sunny day, as in a monsoon it’s not even possible to see the Kowloon side!
- Ride the Star Ferry back and forth from Tsim Sha Tsui on the southern tip of Kowloon to Central on the northern side of Hong Kong Island. The 15-minute ride is impressive in the daytime and even better at night — perhaps during the Symphony of Lights evening show, held every night in the harbor. It is also possible to watch the show at 8:00 or 9:00 pm from the Harbour shore on the Kowloon side — looking across at the illuminated skyscrapers in Central.
- Spend a day on the Seaside southern shore of Hong Kong Island. Start with lunch and some souvenir shopping in the Stanley Open Air Market. It is also possible to visit the Old British Colonial Prison here, or simply lounge on the beach (weather permitting, of course). Don’t eat too much, however, because we suggest a dinner visit to the Floating Restaurant JUMBO located in the middle of the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter/Harbour. The restaurant provides a fleet of shuttle boats to take patrons from the shore to the restaurant. For many years, this restaurant has been one of the most photographed places in Hong Kong, a multi-story restaurant located on a barge with the name JUMBO on the roof in neon!
- If you have children, consider a visit to Hong Kong Disneyland. The 15-year-old park is the largest amusement park in Hong Kong but the smallest of all Magic Kingdom/Disneyland type parks in the Disney family worldwide (at only 65 acres!). The park is located on Lantau Island, en route to or from the airport.