Our towns: Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the world's most exciting city. It is truly the gateway between East and West through which more cargo and commerce flow than anywhere else relative to population size. It's the financial hub of Asia, dwarfing almost every other financial centre in the region, and many worldwide. And it is perhaps the most accessible place on earth with flights to and from almost everywhere.

When it came to choosing the venue for the First Asia Pacific Financial Crime Forum, there was only one serious contender: once described as a "barren rock with narry a house on it," (Palmerston, the first Governor) through the sale of Plot One to the formative hong of Jardine Mattheson to maintaining a position as a fantastically dynamic financial and commercial centre we had to choose Hong Kong. It's where we, as a group, call Home and individually, most of us have an affinity to the place bordering on an addiction.

Hong Kong's population is more than 95% ethnic Chinese. The official languages are Cantonese / Mandarin and English. All Government proceedings are in English. Hong Kong has an official population of around 7 million, mostly living on Hong Kong island, in Kowloon and the New Territories. But there is considerable development on nearby islands and "the airport corridor".

Arriving in Hong Kong

The breathtaking approaches into Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport are fond memories since the move to Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok in 1997. But the approach to the new airport is equally awe-inspiring, but for different reasons - some of Hong Kong's outcrop islands are spectacularly beautiful to fly over. And recent development has put skyscraper blocks alongside the flightpath. The runway appears out of the sea immediately before touchdown: flying into Hong Kong remains one of the World's great arrivals.

HKIA is a massive steel and glass terminal. It can be a long walk from the gates so be prepared for a hike, although there are, of course, travelators.

After baggage reclaim and Customs, you will arrive in a large hall. Straight ahead you will see the entrance to the Airport Express Train. There are ticket machines and a ticket desk.

Hint: when you use the train, there is a free shuttle bus from the Kowloon and Central railway stations to the most popular hotel districts. If your hotel is not listed, then ask at the desk which bus you should get, and which hotel you should get off at. Or fax your hotel in advance and ask which railway station you should go to, and which bus route to use.

If you don't wish to use the free bus, you can get a taxi from the railway terminal to your hotel. It is recommended that you have the name and address and telephone number of your hotel typed in English to show to your taxi driver.

Hint: if you are arriving on Monday and leaving on Wednesday, you can use an Airport Express Octopus Card. This includes a one-way Airport Express ticket and unlimited MTR travel for three days, and of course, the Airport Express hotel transfer. Or buy a one-month return ticket for HKD180. A single fare is HKD100.

If you wish to get to the city by car, the Airport Limousine Service operates from the airport. Black S Class Mercedes whisk you to the city along a stunning elevated highway through the Lantau Corridor. The booking desk is in the main hall opposite the Airport Express Information desk. A car will cost roughly HKD500 depending on destination.

ATM machines are available at several locations within the airport. For example, Standard Chartered is to the left of the exit door after customs. HSBC is through the arch on the way to the Airport Express.

Time Zone: GMT +8

NB: on leaving HK, airport departure tax of HKD120 is payable. You will need to pay this before receiving your boarding pass. Usually it will be included in the price of your ticket but you should check.

Entry Visas: Hong Kong's entry visa entry policy has few restrictions. Most visitors will simply have a stamp in their passport. Arrival cards are required and your cabin crew should give you one to complete before landing. Some visitors will require a visa. Most can be issued on arrival but some visitors will need to have a visa arranged before arrival in Hong Kong. Full information is available at the Hong Kong Immigration website at http://www.immd.gov.hk/ehtml/hkvisas_4.htm

Telephones

Mobile: Roaming on GSM 900/1800 networks. For details of roaming partners see http://www.gsmworld.com/roaming/gsminfo/cou_hk.shtml

Prepaid GSM Cards are available at the newsagents' shop to the left of the exit from Customs. Ask for set-up help as the system can be a little confusing the first time.

Communications in Hong Kong are charged differently to most other places. All intra-Hong Kong calls from landlines in Hong Kong are free. However, calls made from hotels and business centres will attract a service charge. Calls to mobiles from landlines incur a charge for the recipient. Calls from mobile to landline incur a charge for the caller. Calls from mobile to mobile incur charges for both caller and recipient. Calls from public call boxes are subject to a small charge.

WiFi: see http://www.wififreespot.com/asia.html for details of WiFi availability across Hong Kong .

Electricity: 220V, 50 cycles. Three pin "British" plugs and sockets.

Currency: Hong Kong's currency is the Hong Kong Dollar. It is pegged to the USD at a rate of USD1=HKD7.8 but the rate does vary slightly at bureaux de change. It fluctuates with the USD against all other currencies. There are licensed bureaux de change all over Hong Kong. Rates can be negotiable. Hotel rates are traditionally very weighted in favour of the hotel.

Hint: you will generally get a reasonable exchange rate from your own bank, and have considerably more convenience, if you use the omnipresent ATM network to get local cash. All the major interchange systems are widely available.

Getting around Hong Kong

Hong Kong's public transport system seems to be schizophrenic with ultra modern rapid transport systems on the one hand and historic systems on the other.

MTR: the Mass Transit System. Built as the most advanced underground system of its day, Hong Kong's MTR remains an inspiration for light-rail service designers and operators all over the world. It's fast, clean, safe and efficient. It's smoke-free, food-free, drinks-free and graffiti-free. Why? Because the millions of people that rely on it daily are proud of it. It's the only underground system we know anywhere that cleaners constantly roam around with feather dusters. Be cautious on the Island line: Wanchai and Chai Wan are different places a long way apart.

Buses: Hong Kong has a very efficient and cheap bus system. Kowloon Motor Bus has just renewed almost its entire fleet with some of the most advanced double deckers in the world.

Minibuses: a Hong Kong institution that visitors almost never use. They run along specified routes but the drivers usually speak only Cantonese. It can be a bit difficult to work out which bus to get because drivers tease passengers by setting their destination blinds so as to show the Chinese characters only - they leave the English translation just below the window. But they are cheap and efficient, especially on Hong Kong island.

Tram: a symbol of Hong Kong, the double deck trams run along the old waterfront - reclaimed land means they are now a short way inland! The trams are quick and fun and a great way to see Hong Kong, especially from the top deck. Get on at the back and get off at the front. As you leave drop the HKD1.60 fare into the hopper. Carry small coins because no change is given.

The Peak Tram: Victoria Peak towers over Central. At the top is a nature park suitable for running, cycling or just walking. The photos you often see looking down over Central to the Harbour are all taken from The Peak. A monstrous visitor centre has detracted from the natural beauty of what was almost a wilderness in the heart of the city. The Peak Tram is a funicular railway that climbs up the 45 degree slope from Central to the Visitor Centre. There is a station half way up at Mid Levels. The Peak Tram is a rare experience to transit from dynamic city, through residential districts to the nature reserve at the top of the hill.

The Star Ferry: Nothing, anywhere, is so evocative as the Star Ferry as it criss-crosses Victoria Harbour from the Island to the Kowloon Side. It's probably the world's biggest travel bargain at just HKD1.20 one way between TST and Central. The service also runs between TST and Wanchai. There are bus stations at both Star Ferry termini, and the MTR is only a short walk away. Some people like to pay the extra HKD0.40 to sit upstairs. Some but not many.

Rickshaw: Twenty years ago there were lots. Now, there is one. A really old man sits with it at the Central Star Ferry Terminal. But he does not ply for fares: he spots people with cameras and asks if they would like to take a photo. Don't blame him: would you want to run around in city traffic pulling a couple of weighty tourists? We certainly wouldn't.

Taxis: by the standards of most South East Asian cities, Hong Kong's taxis are expensive; for Western visitors they will seem cheap with a flag-fall of HKD15 and HKD1.4 per km after the first 2 km. HK Taxis are clean, safe and reliable. Most taxi drivers speak reasonable English but it's still a good idea to have a note of your destination in Chinese and English just in case you get a recent arrival. If the driver does not know your destination, he will radio his controller and get directions. Drivers always, in our experience, use the meters and take a direct route - although due to one way systems this might not always seem to be the case.

There are dedicated taxi stops for cross harbour trips near each end of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. Drivers at these ranks have crossed the Harbour with a fare and are waiting for a fare to go back to their own side of the water. They will not take fares for local trips because they will lose their place in the queue and they may have taken some long time to reach the front. In TST, the Cross Harbour Taxi stop is in Observatory Road, outside the Empire Hotel.

Hint: don't get caught on the wrong side of the Harbour after midnight - the only way back is by taxi through the tunnel. Whilst you can hail any taxi to go through the tunnel and to any destination beyond, they may require a surcharge because they may then be stuck on the wrong side of the Harbour.

Walking: don't laugh. Hong Kong is a very easy place to get around on foot. In Central a system of elevated walkways connects buildings and separates pedestrians from vehicles. In other districts, pavements are well maintained but crowded at peak times. Hong Kong is a very safe city to walk around, day or night. Although some noisy revellers spill out of the bars of Wanchai and Lan Kwai Fong late at night, they are very unlikely to pose a threat.

The Octopus Card : The Octopus Card is a pre-payment card used for the MTR, buses and many other services including shopping. http://www.octopuscards.com/

Climate: Warm and tropical (for which read possibly sticky). Hong Kong is far enough north to have seasons and June is the start of summer. But even so, out of town it can be chilly enough for a lightweight sweater in the evenings, and it can even be "brisk" in the early morning. Summer showers can be dealt with by an umbrella or showerproof coat. Likely temperature - 22 to 30 degrees C. Also, that sweater may be useful in some places where the management is heavy handed with the aircon.

Up to date information at http://www.underground.org.hk/currenthk.html

Districts:

Tsim Sha Tsui (known as TST):

TST is on the tip of the mainland and consists of three main areas:

* The shopping districts of Nathan Road and Canton Road, and the roads between.

* The "village" district to the East of Nathan Road

* The Harbour front.

Central:

The primary financial district but with many long established shops, high-end department stores and the party district of Lan Kwai Fong.

Wanchai:

A secondary commercial district but Hong Kong's primary party district with everything from high-end bars, restaurants and clubs to seedy girlie bars. Close to Central. Access by bus, tram, MTR and walking. Many hotels. Wanchai market is HK's largest wet market and for those seeking a dose of South East Asian culture, this is the only place within striking distance of the primary districts that you will find it.

Causeway Bay:

A secondary commercial district but Hong Kong's primary shopping area. Contiguous to Wanchai. Access by bus, tram, MTR and walking. Many hotels.

Off duty

Eating out in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's food stall culture has all but disappeared although it is still possible to eat in the street at markets. But there are a host of small shops selling excellent food at very good prices, even in Central.

Western food is expensive relative to local food but many bars serve good pub food at prices that provide excellent value for money often in quantities that will easily satisfy two. Some restaurants publicise special offers but if you go off the special menus prices can rise alarmingly, even for a cup of coffee.

There are many fast food chains ranging from burger bars to home-grown meat and rice. But... why would you even think about going to one of them?

Drinking in Hong Kong.

Hotel bars can prove very expensive, even in the early evening. Venture out and you will find a wide range of bars with long happy hours and prices about half those in hotels.

Bars tend to fall into one of four camps: pseudo British pubs, local bars, international-style smart bars and seedy places. The price increases as you move along that scale with the pubs being the cheapest and the more seedy the more expensive.

Hong Kong bars are generally very friendly with both host and customers willingly chatting to strangers. And because Hong Kong is such an international place, whatever your language, the chances are that someone will know a few words to speak with you.

Nightly Festival of Lights: Get out your camera and tripod and get down to the Kowloon Waterfront any evening for the most spectacular city light show! Every night at 20:00, the Island Waterfront is lit up with a dazzling laser and lamp display.

Macau: a forty minute ferry ride will bring you to this Casino-laden province. Macau has interesting Portuguese architecture but has lost much of its fishing-village style charm. The de facto currency is HKD. USD are also widely accepted. The Casinos are anxious that you visit and provide a wide range of eating and entertainment at economical prices.

Lantau – The Big Budhha: the largest Buddha in the world, apparently. It is amazing. Be prepared for lots of steps: it's a long way up!

Street markets: Wanchai market is the archetypal residents' market. But most tourists head for the night markets on Kowloon side. Cheap clothes, over-runs from factories and blatant fakes are pushed towards locals and tourists alike. And if you walk around and sniff, you can sometimes find the stinky tofu shop. Don't knock it until you've tried it!

Happy Valley – stay an extra day and visit Happy Valley Racecourse on Wednesday evening. Get a tram on the Island side for a great night out that is as much a culture shock as anything you are likely to see, but for a different reason. It used to be said that Hong Kong was run by the The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Jardine Mattheson and The Governor in that order. The Jockey Club abandoned its Royal prefix in anticipation of 1997, Hong Kong Bank has moved its power base to London, Jardines relocated its official home to Bermuda, also in anticipation of 1997 and on 1 July that year Chris Patten, the last Governor, left having watched the Hong Kong Standard come down for the last time at midnight. Despite all of that, not much has changed for Happy Valley which is one of the most technologically advanced race tracks and betting machines on earth and a destination for tens of thousands of Hong Kongers for every meeting.

Architecture

Hong Kong has some truly spectacular buildings including the Lippo Tower, the Hong Kong Bank building and its neighbour Bank of China – and the previous incarnation of the latter next to the HSBC building. Some of the world's tallest buildings, including the International Finance Centre where the Hong Kong Monetary Authority occupies the auspicious 88th Floor for its chairman's office. But it also has districts of old fashioned shop houses, waterfront godowns and everything in between. Hong Kong is multi-dimensional in every sense of the word.

Bringing the family?

Prepare yourself for shopping! Hong Kong is awash with every brand you can think of, and many more. And whilst it's not the discount shopping paradise it once was it is still possible to find bargains. In the side streets, the boutiques and general clothing stores have the fashions that will be across most of the region in six months, often for less than they will cost when they get to other cities.

Hong Kong is still one of the best places in the world to get a suit made. Beware of touts and take recommendations.

Don't forget Hong Kong Disneyland if that's the sort of thing your family goes for.

And Hong Kong is much more than the developed parts: out of town there are still little fishing villages and agricultural communities, a well kept secret of this most hyper-active of places.

More information: http://www.discoverhongkong.com/

Leaving Hong Kong

Make sure your ticket has been reconfirmed. Ask your hotel to help the day before your outbound flight.

The quickest way out of the city is by the Airport Express High Speed Rail Link. Get a free shuttle bus to the station. If you are leaving from the Hong Kong side, you can check in and hand over your bags at the City Air Terminal in Central. If you are leaving from Kowloon side, you can check in at Kowloon station. You must check in at least two hours before the flight if you wish to check in at the CAT or Kowloon facilities. It is advisable to do so because HKG is large and dragging luggage around the airport is no fun.

Recent security measures have added to the time it takes to get through the airport and immigration queues can be long. Also, it can be a long walk to the gate. Therefore we recommend that you board a shuttle bus three hours before your flight (to take account of city traffic), check in at least two hours before your flight and go straight to the airport and through formalities.

If you are early, then the airport has a selection of lounges and seating areas and, of course, an excellent mall and a wide range of restaurants and snack bars.

(info, including prices, believed current as at June 2009. Check for updates)

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© 2009 The Financial Crime Forum / Vortex Centrum Limited, all rights reserved.