There’s no doubt that for those of us who are coming from the Western part of the world, paying a visit to the Far East is one of the rarest and most rewarding opportunities of a lifetime.
And that’s exactly why you should give yourself a fair amount of time to organize your trip and figure out a plan of attack, so to speak, before making your way to somewhere like Hong Kong.
Sure, you may have seen the pictures, read the articles, and even watched the videos from folks who’ve told you that traveling abroad is easy. And it certainly can be! But every person’s overseas experience is different, and that’s doubly true if you happen to be heading abroad for the very first time.
We’ve gathered a handful of crucial travel planning tips here for those of you who are heading to Hong Kong for the first time. Read ‘em, print ‘em out … and have a blast in the former British colony that’s known alternately as the Asia’s World City and the Pearl of the Orient.
Standard Tourist Visas
Depending on the nature of your visit to Hong Kong, you may find yourself needing one of a few different types of visas.
According to the Consulate General of the United States, U.S. citizens visiting Hong Kong for 90 days or less are not required to obtain visas. You will, however, need to have a U.S. passport that’s valid for at least six months, beginning on the date of your entry to Hong Kong.
In fact, since the six-month rule is such a frequent international requirement, anyone with a passport that’s due to expire in less than a year should definitely renew that passport before heading abroad, no matter where you may be going.
And what if you’d like to stick in Hong Kong around for longer than 90 days? You’ll need to check in with the Chinese Embassy, where you can inquire about obtaining an ‘extension of stay’ visa.
The 144-Hour Convenient Visa
Another visa option to bear in mind when you’re visiting Hong Kong is something known as the 144-hour Convenient Visa. It sounds odd, but it’s actually a relatively simple way to visit Mainland China, which otherwise involves a rather lengthy visa application process.
With the 144-hour Convenient Visa, travelers can visit China’s Guangdong Province for a maximum of 144 hours (six days). Of course, there are a few inconvenient catches. The trip has to take place within the confines of a tour organized by a registered Hong Kong travel agent, for instance. If you’re interested, talk to hotel staff or a travel agent for more details.
By the time you leave Hong Kong, you’ll probably be sick to death of being told that it’s one of the most densely populated places on earth. As if you couldn’t tell: Popular tourist sites seem to be packed-to-overflowing with visitors at nearly all hours of the day. That’s why smart Hong Kong visitors take pains to start their sightseeing as early in the morning as possible. Give this a shot, and you’ll likely be amazed to discover just how much of the city you can actually have to yourself.
That early-morning tip, by the way, is doubly important if you plan to ride the Peak Tram to the top of Hong Kong, which is a ride you definitely shouldn’t miss. You’ll end up waiting in line for ages if you arrive in the middle of the day. Show up at 7 a.m., though, and you’re apt to walk right on.
Rides You Shouldn’t Miss
Speaking of rides you shouldn’t miss, you’ll absolutely want to give yourself the experience of crossing Victoria Harbor on the Star Ferry, a rickety old green-and-white vessel that’s been sailing back and forth between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for more than 125 years. It’s cheap, it’s noisy, and it’s tons of fun.
Also recommended — assuming you’re either made of money or don’t mind parting with a decent bit of it — is the one-hour ferry from Hong Kong to Macau, one of the world’s great gambling destinations. The first ferry of the day departs at 7 a.m., and economy fares start as low as US $16. Employees at your hotel or guest house can point you in the direction of the closest departure point, of which there are many.
We’re sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but Hong Kong’s early-morning sightseeing rule generally applies to shopping excursions as well. If you’re planning an outing to any of the city’s shopping malls or famous retail districts (like Causeway Bay or Mong Kok), you’ll need to prepare yourself for the onslaught of shoppers who descend on the city most days from Mainland China. You’ve never seen crowds like this, people. To avoid the insanity, pick your bargains as the sun rises.
One last shopping tip: If you do make your way to Mong Kok, head to the legendary Ladies’ Market, where haggling is the order of the day, and some of the island’s best retail bargains can be found.
Bottom line: Hong Kong is an absolutely wondrous city full of history, art, culture and exotic cuisine. It holds within it the opportunity for nearly endless memorable experiences. So take care to do your research and legwork ahead of time. You’ll thank yourself.
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