When travelling somewhere foreign, it's important to know certain characteristics, mannerisms, customs, etiquette, the do's and don't's and other extra travelling tips to make your vacay more enjoyable and a little easier. It's not that I found all this out the hard way, but it makes it easier for first timers to take some travelling advice with them when going to Hong Kong.
As of right now, exchange shops and kiosks in Hong Kong buy the CAD at a rate of HK$7.3, in some shops, HK$7.4. I bought my HKD at a rate of HK$7.1 in Calgary through Calforex, which sucks. It doesn't seem like a big deal, but the .2-.3 in difference is quite a bit when exchanging large amounts. Buy your HKD IN Hong Kong. Better yet, HK shops buy the US dollar at a rate of HK$7.8-7.9. Since CAD is almost at par with the USD, it's worth it to buy USD in Calgary, and exchange the USD in Hong Kong for an even better exchange rate.
The amount of malls, stores and shops in Hong Kong is ridiculous. In a good way. Even more so for me because there are MANY sneaker shops in Hong Kong, all of which we tried to cover during the course of our trip.
Shopping, in terms of pricing, is basically like shopping at home, depending where you go. Most major malls with stores that we have price their stock similar to ours. Everything works out to be the same at the end. If you plan on shopping, it's best to shop at the stores we DON'T have, otherwise why pay the same for stuff you can get back home and over stuff your luggage?
Because of the large population density of Hong Kong, there are plenty of restaurants everywhere you go, as well as an abundance of street food, which is not only cheap, but delicious. It's also surprisingly easy to find Western style restaurants as well. Traditional Chinese cuisine is heaven. I love ACTUAL Chinese food. It's a nice break from 'Salt N' Pepper (insert random seafood item here)' and 'Ginger Beef'. Pricing for restaurants are actually pretty comparable to what you'd pay for food in Calgary.
Here are some tips on food etiquette as well in most restaurants:
- When your tea pot is empty, open the lid and it will be refilled and brought back to you.
- Most places have glass or plastic placers to rest your chopsticks. It's rude in Chinese culture to rest your chopsticks into the bowl vertically after a meal. Always use these placers or place the chopsticks across the bowl.
- Tipping is not expected, therefore not required. Tipping is uncommon in Hong Kong. If you decide to tip, it's not the normal 15% we tip back home, it's significantly less. And the tip goes to the chefs or the owners, not the waiters or waitresses.
- Most waiters and waitresses speak English and the menus are also translated.
- There are many Michelin Star restaurants in Hong Kong at reasonable prices. My cousin and I suggest Lei Garden on Hennessey Road in Causeway Bay. The dim sum is AWESOME. That is an understatement. Michelin Star dim sum. The greatest 4 words ever strung together.
- Fast food is cheaper than that in Calgary. Places like McDonald's, BK and KFC are wide spread all over the city. Most McDonald's have McCafe's, free Wi-Fi and serve Sausage McMuffin extra value meals all day.
Big and small hotels are rampant throughout Hong Kong and range in various prices from $30CAD to $300CAD per night. We ended up staying in Cosmo, the sister hotel to The Cosmopolitan next door. The prices are very reasonable at $80CAD a night. Comes complete with a full bathroom, 2 double beds, a couple desks and an LCD TV. Most hotels offer this and more for around the same price range.
Concierge and hotel staff are required to have good English skills, so asking what to do for a night out or checking in won't be too much of a problem. Most hotels are near train stations, major bus routes and tourist attractions.
Cab fare is insanely cheap and available almost anywhere. Far starts at HK$18 and we end up spending around HK$55-65 on our longer travels where trains aren't available. Shuttle buses at major hotels also offer services to the sirport, Ocean Park theme park and other various local attractions. Often for free. Tip is also not required for cab or bus drivers. Some of them speak English, other times, you'd have to show them pictures or have your destinations written down in Chinese by concierge at your hotel.
The most efficient way of travelling is via train. Hong Kong has a nice, clean and efficient (and air conditioned) subway train system that stops in all major parts of the city, which makes places easier to find. You'll need an Octopus card for your travels which is available at the airport or a local 7-11. They are also refillable at these locations and can be used as a debit card for not only the train, but most fast food places as well. HK$100 is a good enough for a weeks worth of train travelling.
The train gets super packed at all the major interchanges. So get there early or after rush hour. Although it seems like every hour in that city is rush hour.
- Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere. Some are unlocked for use and can be more handy than maps when using an iPhone or iPod GPS systems. However, in any event you can't connect, bring a map.
- Take the train as much as you can, its the fastest and cheapest way anyways. If you have luggage, take a cab or shuttle bus.
- Chinese people in Hong Kong may seem a bit rude, but like NYC, the place is just busy and in a rush. Don't take it too personal if one cuts in line, shoves you out of the way, or pushes and bumps you in the train to try and squeeze in and catch it.
- If you're with Telus, your phone won't work. At least mine didn't. I didn't totally mind, that way, I won't get a massive phone bill when I get home.
- ATMs charge a large amount when you withdraw, try not to use the ATMs in HK. If you have to, use Citibank.
- You can use your Octopus card for the train, fast food places and 7-11s. You can probably use them in more places, but I'm not too sure.
- Hong Kong is generally a safe place to be with very little to no problems when running about. However, if you find yourself in a crowded street market or a wrong side of town, just watch out for your wallet and keep it in your front pocket.