As a continent and a destination Asia is one of the most fascinating and diverse travel opportunities one can experience. However where to begin? Having counseled clients concerning travel to Asia, for their initial visit (or even their 10th), I usually suggest Hong Kong as the destination of choice.
Hong Kong as a destination is an encapsulation of many of the diverse attributes of Asia. Governed as a British colony until 1997, Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories are now under the Peoples Republic of China governance yet due to various political and economic arrangements the area known as Hong Kong is operated as a Special Administrative Region (SAR).
What does this mean for tourists? First and foremost for those visiting from the United States, a separate visa is not required for entry, a valid United States Passport is all that is required. Of note, if you wish to visit Mainland China, even from Hong Kong via the MTR rail system, a visa will be necessary.
Beyond the ease of access, why I suggest Hong Kong as a destination for a first-time visitor is the bilingual culture of English and Cantonese Chinese. From street signs to mass transit announcements to menu’s and directories, most are provided in both English and Chinese, a luxury for an English speaking traveler in Asia. The vast majority of lodging options are modern, clean and to Western standards as are public facilities from drinking water to healthcare. Finally the currency, the Hong Kong Dollar is pegged to the United States Dollar at an approximate ratio of 7.8 HKD to 1 USD. Thus currency fluctuations are not an issue.
Getting There: From Denver International at present most one-stop options are routed through Chicago, San Francisco and Newark via United the dominant carrier out of Denver International for Asia. When United begins nonstop service on their new Boeing 787 between Denver and Tokyo, I assume there will be a connecting option between Tokyo and Hong Kong. However in the interim, Chicago and San Francisco are routes most favored by travelers originating in Denver. Of note, the flight is long, thus if possible consider spending the extra few dollars on Economy Plus seating. The added leg room and perceived added recline pitch will be most appreciated between hours 4 and 14 while en route.
If you wish to be creative concerning your flights, if you can access one of the cities with non-stop service to Honk Kong, there are many choices for both cost-savings and comfort. Since the journey is long, I advise clients to consider spending a few extra dollars for increased comfort.
An example Cathy Pacific offers a Premium Economy Class option which is presented as an enhancement over the standard economy ticket. The streamlined check-in, the additional recline/foot rests and private cabin make the option one to consider for not much more cost than a standard economy ticket.
Concerning standard economy seating on long-haul flights, Singapore Airlines which offers nonstop to Hong Kong from the West Coast is an option to consider. In addition to competitive pricing, larger than standard economy seats, excellent entertainment options, enhanced food service and the legendary service make Singapore Air an excellent choice from the West Coast. Of note, for those considering flying Singapore from the East Coast, there is a stop-over in Frankfurt.
The newer Hong Kong Airport also known as Kai Tak is a model of efficiency and design catering to international travel. Past visitors to Hong Kong may remember the former airport on Kowloon in which passengers were actually concerned the wings of the planes would touch the clothes lines of surrounding buildings. The former airport was one of the most challenging to land regardless of weather.
The airport is located on Lantau Island (which is also home to the world’s largest statue of Budda), an area known as the New Territories. Customs, immigration and baggage claim are quote efficient and wait-times are minimal.
Accessing Hong Kong: From the airport visitors can take a taxi or as I recently experienced the MTR Airport Express rail service which is the most cost-effective and time efficient option. The rail station is located within the airport. There is a ticket vendor (approx. $11 USD O/W) and tickets can also be purchased prior via the Internet.
The train is clean, efficient, air-conditioned and comfortable. Each car offers ample storage space for luggage as well.. For most visitors the last two stops will be the destination i.e. Kowloon Station and Hong Kong Station.
One of the benefits of the train ticket is a connection with the Airport Express Shuttle Bus which does a loop of the major hotels in both Kowloon and Hong Kong included with your train fare. It is a seamless connection and a true bargain for a major tourist and business destination. Be sure to advise the dispatcher what hotel is your final destination as there are multiple routes. In addition, there are connections to the vast MTR rail system from both stations and ample taxis with fares that are truly a bargain.
Next installment lodging options.