Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Tip Tuesday - Visitors

Yes, Top Tip Tuesday is back, but temporarily. I'm at home sick with the flu and am taking advantage of the time off to get some writing done.

We've had a few people come to visit us since we moved here four long years ago, most of them just passing through on their way somewhere else, but others who really want to see as much of Hong Kong as they can. Once they've been here a few times they want to do less of the touristy stuff and more of the hanging out with their loved ones (i.e. us) but between friends and family, we've managed to see a lot of the city's main attractions several times over. I recently had the pleasure of having my parents visit, and the prospect of having them here was both exciting and terrifying. Not only was it the first time they had been to Hong Kong, it was the first time they had left Australia. They arrived wide-eyed and exhausted with their brand new luggage and with the ink barely dry on their brand new passports. They're from the country and Mum used to get stressed coming to visit me in Sydney, so I knew planning a week's worth of activities was going to be tough. I desperately wanted them to enjoy their time here, and to show them as much as I could without overwhelming them completely. I didn't want to scare them off overseas travel for good, so the pressure was on. They were also bringing my 10 year old nephew, so I had to factor in kid-friendly outings as well.

I took care of the kid's needs by putting the 3 of them up at Hong Kong Disney's Hollywood Hotel. It was reasonably priced compared to other hotels in the area, and they were close to us without being on top of us (we live in 800 sq feet - there isn't room for the 3 of us, let alone 3 more!). Meals were expensive at the hotel's restaurants but we took care of breakfast by stocking up at Wellcome and they ate with us for other meals. Being so close to Disneyland also made a day at the park possible, and more bearable, as they could come and go as they pleased.

For the rest of the week I made sure we had one rest day for every busy day and that seemed to work quite well. As I said, we've had a few people visit since we moved here and we've always stuck with the same, well-worn tourist routes. This time we did a few things a bit differently and despite my mother nicknaming me "the General" for my planning, everyone had a good time. So here are my tips for entertaining friends and family when they come to visit:

  • One of the things I love the most about Hong Kong is just how different each little pocket of the city is from the next. There is so much to see and do that it would take several trips of a few weeks each to see just half of it. We didn't get to Sai Kung or venture deep into the heart of Mong Kok, we didn't get up the peak, and the closest my parents came to eating a Chinese dish was my helper's sweet and sour pork, but I really tried to show them that this place is truly a city of contrasts.
  • A trip to Lantau is a must. We live here so it was a given that we would spend a lot of time on the island, but it is always great to see the surprised looks on people's faces when you drive over that hill or step off the ferry and they're greeted by rolling green hills, long stretches of beach, and buffalo roaming freely - it's the last thing people expect when they come to HK. I couldn't have done anything worse than drag my parents into the madness of Mong Kok after their 9 hour flight, so we spent the whole of their first day here, on Lantau. We visited the Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and Ngong Ping Village, and it was a great introduction to just one of the many contrasts of this city. Later in the week we also headed down to Pui O beach to watch the buffalo and take in some of the spectacular scenery around here. 
  • A ferry ride is also a fun, cheap activity and even if you just get the Star Ferry across the harbour, it's a great way to see the city from a different angle. 
  • We spent almost an entire day traipsing around Stanley Markets - something I have not done in a very long time. It's not for the fainthearted and the sheer effort involved in getting there and back makes it less popular in my book. We attempted it on a Friday afternoon, before a public holiday and it took us a nauseating two hours to get home. But we all enjoyed it and Mum shopped up a storm. It's the kind of place where not much bargaining goes on, and you might find the prices a little steeper than they are in places like the lanes, but it's a gorgeous part of HK and I love it for the cheap baby clothes!
  • On their final night here we took Mum and Dad for dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. The buffet there is amazing (albeit pricey) and with great views over the harbour, the location couldn't be better. We arrived early so that we'd be finished dinner by 8pm, in time to watch the Symphony of Lights (ok, I stayed at the table and helped myself to the dessert buffet while everyone else watched the light show). It's tacky but brilliant, and you can't help but love a city that sets a gaudy light show to even gaudier music every single night. 
  • We also bunkered down for a few nights in a holiday house while a typhoon raged around us, and that was pretty exciting. But my mother will probably tell you it was nothing compared to taking the MTR on a Friday night during peak hour. Of all the things that we did that week, these were the least favourite with our guests...
Typhoon Nesat put a damper on a number of our plans for the week, but overall I think it was a success. Here are just a few of the things/places we can recommend from previous jaunts with vistors:
  • The Peak is still the most popular place to go to get a great view of the city. Getting a taxi all the way up there and then the tram down is the best way, but there are a million different ways, if you feel like chugging up the hill on a mini-bus or queuing at the peak tram station for hours at the bottom of the hill. Walking back down can also be fun (no, really!) and gives you an idea of just how small this place really is. I wanted to take my folks to the new Sky 100 in the ICC, Kowloon, then I learned it wasn't free. It's a fine option if you don't want to battle the crowds at the peak and will certainly give you a different perspective. My mum had some time at the Ritz Carlton Spa (in the same building - apparently the highest spa in the world) and said the views were spectacular. I felt nauseous just going up there in the lift with her so I took her word for it. But, if you can stomach it and don't mind paying the entry fee, Sky 100 is a good way to show your guests the lay of the land, so to speak.
  • Hong Kong Park, on Cotton Tree Drive, Central, is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. I've always seen it as a welcome bit of respite in the middle of all that madness, and anyone we've taken there has loved it too, as much for the unexpectedness of it as for its beauty. The Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware is another little surprise tucked away in a corner of the park, and anyone who loves a quiet cup of tea, or quaint, china-filled museums will be delighted if you take them here. 
  • Food is pretty high on the list of priorities for any traveller worth his salt, and we have two places that are guaranteed to please every time. I'm not brave enough to eat from the dai pai dongs that line the streets so if you're looking for a truly authentic Cantonese experience, you'll have to look elsewhere! The best meal I've ever had in Hong Kong can be found at Crystal Jade in IFC. You have to try their Xiao Long Bao: Pork wontons in steaming broth with fresh pulled noodles. At $30HKD a bowl it certainly won't break the bank. It is food I will queue for, and food I am willing to sit at a table with 8 strangers to eat, it's that good! When my father-in-law was here recently we decided to splurge and took him to one of the few Michelin Starred Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong - Ming Court, in the Langham Hotel, Mong Kok. It was unlike anything I've ever eaten, the staff were wonderful, and the food was unforgettable - in a good way. It was expensive, but not so expensive that the prices weren't on the menu (you know the places I'm talking about - where if you need to ask how much it is, you probably can't afford it...). 
I can think of a lot more places to see and things to do but these here are the ones I can recommend from personal experience. I'd love to hear from you if you have any recommendations you'd like to share. (For the record, my parents will be back - they're already planning their next trip!).

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