Not that you need an additional incentive to visit Hong Kong, but if you've ever dreamed of the quintessential "shop till you drop" experience, this is it. Hong Kong has been famous for its retail therapy for decades. From high fashion to consumer electronics, boutiques to sprawling markets, authentic designer goods to $5 fakes, Hong Kong has it all and there is no better time to take advantage of low prices and a huge selection than during the 2005 Hong Kong Shopping Festival.
Summer has always been sale season in Hong Kong, so the Hong Kong Tourism Board decided to create a festival around this significant retail attraction. Now an annual event, this year's festival started on June 25 and runs until August 31. Every Saturday from now until August 27, 2005, to complement the Shopping Festival, the City puts on A Symphony of Lights, a rooftop pyrotechnics show that lights up the Hong Kong skyline. Enjoy the synchronized narration on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront promenade near the Hong Kong Cultural Centre to get sensational views or take a harbor cruise for the best seats in town.
The Festival and summer sales take place in thousands of stores throughout Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories with merchants displaying the Hong Kong Shopping Festival sign. During the Festival, take advantage of extended shopping hours with most participating stores open until 10pm or later seven-days a week. Prices are generally slashed in even the smallest of stores and discounts can be found everywhere. For coupons, deals and additional discounts in accredited shops and restaurants, pick up your copy of Passport to Special Offers from any Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Information and Services Centre (located at the International Airport arrivals terminal, Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui and the Causeway Bay MTR station).
Getting around Hong Kong to the various shopping districts is easy using the super fast and efficient MTR train and subway system (www.mtr.com.hk/eng/homepage/e_customer_index.php). You can buy tickets as you go, or use what's called the Octopus, which stores value on a card. A one-day unlimited ride Octopus card is $6.50 or the Airport Express Tourist Octopus is another option that includes one Airport Express train single journey (plus shuttle bus) and three-days unlimited MTR rides for $28 (with round-trip Airport transport, the cost is $38.50).
Ladies, I deliberated over whether I should share my personal Hong Kong shopping hints, and decided that if you are discerning enough to be Frommers.com readers, I could let you in on at least one or two Hong Kong shopping secrets. Technically they aren't really secrets as the locals all know where to go, but they may not be as willing to share. The women's fashion wholesale district located on Cheung Sha Wan Road & Ap Liu Street -- (Sham Shui Po MTR -- Cheung Sha Wan Road Exit) is one such "hush hush" place where tourists are incredibly scarce. Here you can shop for overrun stock, samples and clearance ranges at such low prices that you'll think a zero has dropped of the end of the price tag. The clothes are all well made and usually identical to what you'd find in the more expensive department stores. You'll never want to pay department store prices again once you've discovered the make-up and cosmetics stores on Cameron Road and Granville Road in Kowloon (Tsim Sha Tsui MTR). All the major brands are there but you will have to do a bit of searching around to find all the products you are after. Don't be afraid to try Hong Kong designers, local chain stores and smaller outlets for great fashion here.
The main markets in Kowloon are the Ladies' Market (Tung Choi Street -- Mong Kok MTR) and the Temple Night Market (Jordan MTR). Both are quite touristy with sometimes sub-standard products but surprisingly the stores situated in and around these markets are often pretty decent for things like electronics, sporting goods and shoes. For slightly better quality on Hong Kong Island, Jardine's Crescent is a small laneway with shops and stalls (Causeway Bay MTR), Li Yuen Street East and West (Central MTR) is pretty good for shoes and Stanley Market (reachable only by bus) is the most famous (and probably the most expensive) of the markets. Not that we are condoning the purchase of fake goods, but if that's what you are after, you may be better served taking the 45-minute train ride to China and the discount malls of Shenzhen rather than buying them in Hong Kong (keep in mind that you will need to acquire a tourist visa at the border or purchase one in Hong Kong in advance).
To coincide with the sales and to help you maximize your shopping hours, restaurants also stay open later during the Shopping Festical. Hong Kong is considered the culinary capital of Asia and dining here is an explosion of your taste buds with literally hundreds of world-class restaurants and local eateries beckoning you. My personal favorite is Spring Deer on the first floor of 42 Mody Road in Kowloon + 85 22/366-4012 (Tsim Sha Tsui MTR). An unassuming and inexpensive place, the Peking duck here is a work or art but the piece de resistance is the dry-fried beef that comes with baby pancake-like pita pockets.
There is one Hong Kong food tradition that unfortunately is slowly dying out -- the Dai Pai Dong or licensed food stall. These open-air venues that cook meals along sidewalks and alleyways with folding tables and chairs still serve up some of the most authentic and delicious food in Hong Kong. Obviously use common sense when choosing your food stall and make a judgment as to the hygiene and freshness of the food. Vegetarians, take heart -- there are dozens of restaurants that cater specifically to your needs, especially around the shopping areas of Tsim Sha Tsui and Jordan in Kowloon.
Airfares to Hong Kong during July and August vary. Currently, the cheapest direct flight we could find was on Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) with Continental Airlines for $934 including taxes and fees for a midweek round-trip fare from New York. If you're happy to fly via Japan, All Nippon Airways' round-trip fare from Los Angeles through Travelocity is only $677 from now until August 1, 2005. On Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com) the non-stop round-trip fare is also $934 including taxes. From Los Angeles on Northwest, the fare is $890 via Tokyo.
Keep in mind that certain airlines, including Hong Kong's national carrier Cathay Pacific, have recently started imposing a fuel surcharge ($32) on all airfares from North America to China and Hong Kong.
For an airfare and accommodation package for little more than the price of the flight alone, try Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com). The package is priced at $889 plus taxes per person (based on double occupancy) and includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, five-nights accommodation at the three-star BP International House in Kowloon and daily buffet breakfast. This price is valid for daily departures from now until September 4, 2005. Add $58 from New York, $176 from Boston and $235 from Miami.
Pacific Delight (tel. 800/221-7179; www.pacificdelighttours.com has a Hong Kong package starting from $1,139 from now until September 4, 2005. This price includes round-trip airfare from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, New York or Seattle on United Airlines, five-nights accommodation at the Majestic Hotel, round-trip airport transfers and a selection of free cultural activities like Tai Chi classes, a Cantonese opera appreciation tour, architecture walks, Feng Shui classes, antiques appreciation classes and a duk ling ride (junk cruise).
For more information about traveling to Hong Kong, visit www.frommers.com/destinations/hongkong.