48 hours in Hong Kong

The ultimate shopping city is less expensive than it was. And the sales start next month!
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The Independent Travel

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Hong Kong is famed for its five-star hotels, of which there are many. Mid-priced hotels are not so common. At The Regent (18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon, 00 852 2721 1211), you could wake up in a harbour-view suite for the little sum of HK$3,700 (around £ 300). If your budget doesn't quite stretch that far, escape from Hong Kong Island and try one of the mid- priced hotels in Tsim Sha Tsui or Wan Chai. The Shamrock Hotel (223 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei (00 852 2735 2271) on the Kowloon side, has doubles from HK$630 (around £ 51).

Get your bearings

Most people's notion of Hong Kong as a high-rise, glass and steel jungle will be pleasantly dashed by the lush subtropical vegetation in the surrounding areas. The city consists: Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories, which extend northwards to the Chinese border. In addition, there are some 260 outlying islands.

Hong Kong has one of the most efficient public transport systems in the world. The Mass Transit Railway runs along the north side of Hong Kong Island and also serves Kowloon and Lan Tao Island. On Hong Kong Island, the double-decker trams, in operation since 1904, run east from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei. The fare is HK$2 (20p). There are also regular ferry and hovercraft services to the outlying islands and Kowloon.

Why go now?

Since the handover in 1997, the high prices Hong Kong was formerly renowned for have happily come down. January and February are technically winter, which means bearable temperatures and low humidity. The Chinese New Year falls on 4 February and you can expect fireworks and a dazzling parade. Committed shoppers will be pleased to hear that the January sales are a great time to buy, with prices often slashed by 70 per cent and, if you need even more of an incentive, book now to go when the Rugby Sevens take place (24-26 March). The Hong Kong Tourist Association operates a multilingual visitor hotline 24 hours a day (00 852 2508 1234) or visit the City of Life website at: www.hkta.org for event listings.

Beam down

British Airways (0345 222111), Cathay Pacific (020 7747 8888) and Virgin Atlantic (01293 747747) all fly non-stop to Hong Kong from Heathrow (Aoife O'Riordain travelled as a guest of Cathay Pacific). Official return fares are around £ 570, but any discount agent can offer a better deal.

Alternatively, you could stop over in Hong Kong as part of a long-haul flight. The perilous approach over Kowloon into Hong Kong's old airport is no more thanks to the opening of monstrous Chek Lap Kok airport on Lantau Island. Be warned, though, the gates are miles from check-in, so there's little or no chance of dashing for that flight unless you're an Olympic sprinter. The express rail link to the city leaves every 10 minutes and takes 23 minutes to reach central Hong Kong (HK$60, or around £ 5 one way).

Take a hike

The Hong Kong Trail stretches for 30 miles along the length of Hong Kong Island and can be broken up into sections depending on how much exertion you fancy. If you feel like trying some of them out, the Country Park Authority has published a map of the trails and it is available from the Hong Kong Tourist office. Alternatively, head for the Kam Shan Country Park, a National Park on Kowloon.

The icing on the cake

No trip to Hong Kong is complete without a visit to The Peak. From the observation deck, you have a view over the entire city with its bustling harbour. Take a stroll along one of the many Peak trails and peer down onto the chi chi residential areas of Repulse Bay and The Peak itself (originally a Western enclave, and which only allowed affluent Chinese residents in in the last century). The almost vertical path of its funicular tram is an unmissable way to reach The Peak. It climbs from the foot of the mountain in Hong Kong central (HK$18, or around £ 1.50 one-way) and is so steep that you sit facing backwards on the way down - no bad thing.

Bracing brunch

The island of Lamma is a 25-minute ride from Hong Kong. Only a few of Hong Kong's outlying islands are populated, and Lamma, the third largest, is one of them. It is famed for the seafood restaurants in Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan (a one-and-a-half-hour walk apart if you feel so inclined). Alternatively, the Waterfront restaurant (00 852 2982 0914) is a delicious spot for a quick bite.

Sunday morning... Go to church

Owing to its prosperity as a port and its large seafaring population, Hong Kong is apparently devoted to the Taoist deity of Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea. There are many temples dedicated to her, but one of the more impressive is the Tin Hau Temple in Causeway Bay.

Demure dinner

The Peak Cafe (121 Peak Road - 00 852 2849 7868), as its name suggests, is at the top of The Peak but don't expect hoards of camera-clicking tourists here. This romantic and elegant Oriental-style building looks out over the lush vegetation of the south side of the island and across the South China Sea. Smart diners sit sipping Chardonnay and tucking into the delicious Pan Asian food.

Take a ride

The legendary Star Ferry links Central Hong Kong and Wan Chai to Tsim Tsa Tsui on Kowloon, and is an absolute must. Join the local commuters going about their business on the short hop (HK$2) (20p) while also taking in the views of the harbour and of the Sampan boats and junk ships floating by. Or, have a ride along the world's longest outdoor escalator, the Mid- Level escalator on Hong Kong Island, which is half-a-mile long. If you'd rather watch someone else taking a ride, spend a day at the infamous Happy Valley Race Course, which has been in operation since 1846, and is one of the few legal ways to gamble in Hong Kong. Visits can be arranged through the Hong Kong Tourist Board (00 852 2807 6390) and cost from HK$490 (around £ 40).

Cultural afternoon

Hong Kong still displays elements of its colonial inheritance (look out for red telephone boxes dotted around the city), and it is this combination of Asian and Western culture that makes it such a fascinating destination. A short walk from the Peak terminus, surrounded by towering skyscrapers, is the picturesque St John's Church, which is believed to be the oldest Anglican church in Asia.

On Kowloon's waterfront promenade (Kowloon means Nine Dragons) you'll find the Hong Kong Cultural Centre housing the Hong Kong Space Museum (00 852 2734 2722) and the Hong Kong Museum of Art (00 852 2721 0116), and nearby is the 44m Clock Tower, which was part of the original Kowloon-Canton Railway, built in 1915.

Shop until you drop

This is the city to shop in, if ever there was one. Choose from the hugely expensive designer stores of the Mandarin Oriental Arcade and Nathan Road, or scuttle off to the street markets of Stanley Road, which are great for Chinese knick-knacks, and the market area, The Lanes, in central Hong Kong. If you get after-dark cravings, the night markets of Temple Street and Ladies' market, on Tsim Sha Tsui, sell everything from clothes to electronics. The Flower market is also worth a peek.

Lunch on the run

Dim sum is a traditional Cantonese dish comprising a series of snacks and lots of tea, for either breakfast or lunch, it is an integral part of Chinese life. Luk Yu Teahouse (26 Stanley Street, 00 852 2523 5464), has dim sum from HK$200 (around £ and is one of the oldest restaurants of its kind in Hong Kong. The American Restaurant (20 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, 00 852 2527 7277) has been around for 50 years, importing 40- 50 ducks from Beijing every day for its Peking duck, a Chinese banqueting speciality (from HK$275, around £ 22).

An aperitif

The best light-show takes place when the sun goes down and the buildings of Hong Kong Island start the illuminations. It's The best way to take in this spectacle is sipping a cocktail in the lobby bar of The Regent. From here you can watch the twinkling neon lights of the tallest building in Hong Kong, the headquarters of the Bank of China, and the casino ship that sails every night out of the harbour and into international waters so that the people on board can gamble the night away.