By Jean and Peter Richards
Hong Kong is an ideal destination for the older, independent traveler who enjoys being in a great, throbbing city.
It is easy to get around. Language is seldom a barrier for English speakers. It is well signed and many people speak some English.
There is plenty to do, plenty to see, plenty to eat in this densely packed bustling city where young people still show respect for their elders and friendly locals make room for a stranger. One need not worry about European style mid-day closing hours in China, most of Hong Kong hums through the day.
At the moment, U. S. Passport holders do not need a visa to visit Hong Kong, but do need a visa to visit any place on the mainland. The U.S. State Department website provides useful information on this and other aspects of travel under the specific country section in International Travel.
Travelers arrive at a sparkling, well-signed-in-English airport. Even the only slightly decrepit might be whisked to the front of an immigration channel by a polite officer’s intervention. At baggage collection, carts are plentiful and free. Once through Customs, personnel will actually help with embarkation by express train to Kowloon or the Hong Kong Station in Central on the island. HotelLink bus services ordered in advance are swift, comfortable and relatively inexpensive.
There is no shortage of comfortable places to stay. Many people book luxury hotels for guaranteed comfort, but smaller, less expensive places can be very pleasant. A hotel in a residential neighborhood can give the visitor a small window on daily life and access to the often very good shops, services and the food locals eat. Learning how to interpret Trip Advisor reviews can yield beneficial results.
Hong Kong’s public transit system is one of the most efficient, cleanest and least expensive anywhere. Older visitors get a substantial discount on purchase of an Octopus Elder Card making it easy to take the metro, buses and trams. Tap it at the entrance to the Star Ferry and it will flash zero for the user over 65 making the short harbor crossing even more of a delight. The #15 bus costs 9.80 HK$ to the Peak for an adult rider, but the Elder Card reduces it to only 2.00HK$ (26¢ USA).
Hotels often have metro maps, but the more adventurous might want to check the Hong Kong bus websites (one of the best is http://www.nwstbus.com.hk/home/default.aspx) for detailed directions being mindful that there are different bus companies and mostly different buses for the island and Kowloon. Taxis are readily available and relatively inexpensive, but public transit offers a broader view of the city and Hong Kong people.
Hong Kong is a walker’s city. Much can be seen on the flatter parts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but beyond the harbor the Island rises steeply. Escalators at Mid-levels ease the slopes to places like Wellington Street and Hollywood Road. Those challenged by steps and steep slopes can still find much to do. Networks of above ground walkways, some with elevators or escalators, link many hotels, shopping centers and places of interest. Most shopping centers have escalators to upper floors where many good places to eat can be found. Energetic walkers can find trail maps on websites and suggestions for walks around The Peak, the botanic garden, along the water at Kennedy Town, the New Territories and many other places. Several websites offer maps, weather information and other suggestions.
Hong Kong, like other Chinese cities, is changing so swiftly that information in guide books may be out of date. Web sites abound with information about Hong Kong, but dated information often stays on the web, so it’s best to be alert. The Board of Tourism has a good site, but it also has maps and useful material at the Kowloon terminal of the Star Ferry. The very good English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, daily lists free and other activities in Hong Kong and has reliable restaurant reviews. Hong Kong people are often happy to help with directions.
Hong Kong has several small, accessible museums well listed in most guides and less expensive than those in Western cities.
The Hong Kong Cultural Center on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui is a major venue for concerts, theatre and dance. Some events are free.
The adjacent Hong Kong Museum of Art has a good collection of Chinese jade, metalware, ceramics and painting and often has a special exhibition of interest, always well explicated in English.
Shoppers will be at a loss in Hong Kong only for the selection amongst the profusion of shopping centers, malls, specialty streets and markets. The city is such a magnet for shoppers that international luxury brands have multiple locations. Most centers have escalators and multiple places to eat. Cheap goods can still be found in its famous outdoor markets, but the buyer should be wary.
The Hong Kong traditional culture of “dim sum” or “little eats” makes it easy for the older person, who may not have the appetite of youth, to snack on wonderful and healthy bites through the day.
Older travelers will appreciate that hours of service are often longer at lunch and earlier in the evening than in many European or North American cities.
Those uninterested in the native cuisine will find plenty of European style eateries and American junk food.
Public toilets abound and most are clean. Malls and shopping centers often have good facilities as does the metro. Carry some tissue, just in case.
Travelers who don’t do their research ahead of a trip may miss out on places of interest. We have never taken a group tour. Hong Kong, like every large city, has Hop On, Hop Off buses and other short tours, but we’ve never taken one, preferring instead to enjoy the city at our own pace.
Copyright © 2013 by Jean and Peter Richards