Your hotel concierge or guest relations manager is usually a valuable source of information. The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is also well equipped and eager to help visitors and answer their questions.
Area Codes -- The area code for Hong Kong is 852. The area code for Macau is 853.
Business Hours -- Although open hours can vary, banking hours are generally Monday through Friday from 9am to 4:30pm and Saturday from 9am to 12:30pm. Keep in mind, however, that some banks stop their transactions -- including foreign currency exchange -- an hour before closing time.
Most business offices are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, with lunch hour from 1 to 2pm; for those that have them (civil servants adopted a 5-day work week in 2006), Saturday business hours are generally 9am to 1pm.
Most shops are open 7 days a week. Shops in the Central District in Hong Kong are generally open from 10am to 7:30pm; in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, 10am to 9:30pm; and in Tsim Sha Tsui, 10am to 9 or 10pm (and some even later than that). As for bars, most stay open until at least 2am; some stay open until the crack of dawn.
Dentists & Doctors -- Many first-class hotels have medical clinics with registered nurses, as well as doctors, on duty at specified hours or on call 24 hours for emergencies. Otherwise, the concierge can refer you to a doctor or dentist. The U.S. consulate (see "Embassies & Consulates") can also provide information on English-speaking doctors. If it's an emergency, dial tel. 999 (a free call) in both Hong Kong and Macau.
Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages (and tobacco) in Hong Kong and Macau is 18. Open hours for bars vary according to the district, though those around Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong stay open the longest, often until dawn. In Macau, most every casino has at least one bar that is open 24 hours. Beer is available at convenience stores, including 7-Eleven, while a larger selection of beer, wine, and liquor is available from the basement food emporiums of department stores.
Drugstores -- Hong Kong does not have any 24-hour drugstores, so if you need something urgently in the middle of the night, you should contact one of the hospitals listed below. One of the best-known pharmacies in Hong Kong is Watson's, which dates back to the 1880s. Today, more than 100 Watson's are spread throughout Hong Kong, most of them open from 9am to 10pm. Ask the concierge at your hotel for the location of a Watson's or drugstore nearest you (only about half the Watson's dispense medicine; the rest deal only in cosmetics and toiletries). Note, however, that prescriptions can be filled only when ordered by a local doctor.
Macau also does not have 24-hour drugstores. Look for signs that say DROGARIA or FARMACIA, or ask your concierge for the location of the nearest drugstore.
Electricity -- The electricity used in both Hong Kong and Macau is 220 volts, alternating current (AC), 50 cycles (in the U.S. and Canada it's 110 volts and 60 cycles). Most laptop computers nowadays are equipped to deal with both 110 and 220 volts. Outlets are the British-style three-pin, rectangular plugs. Most hotels are equipped to fit shavers of different plugs and voltages, and higher-end hotels also have outlets with built-in plug adapters to fit foreign prongs. For cheaper hotels, ask your hotel whether it has a plug adapter you can use -- many often do, for free -- or bring your own.
Embassies & Consulates -- The following consulates are in Hong Kong. If you need to contact a consulate about an application for a visa, a lost passport, tourist information, or an emergency, telephone first to find out the hours of the various sections. The visa section, for example, may be open only during certain hours of the day. In addition, consulates are usually closed for their own national holidays and often for Hong Kong holidays as well.
The American Consulate, 26 Garden Rd., Central District (tel. 852/2523 9011; 852/2841 2211 for the American Citizens Service; http://hongkong.usconsulate.gov), is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 5:30pm; its hours of service for American citizens is Monday to Friday 8:30am to noon and 1:30 to 4pm (closed Wed afternoon).
The Canadian Consulate, 12th-14th floors of Tower One, Exchange Square, 8 Connaught Place, Central District (tel. 852/3719 4700; www.canadainternational.gc.ca/hong_kong), is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 1:30pm.
The British Consulate, at 1 Supreme Court Rd., Central District (tel. 852/2901 3000; http://ukinhongkong.fco.gov.uk/en), is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:15pm.
The Australian Consulate is on the 23rd floor of Harbour Centre, 25 Harbour Rd., Wan Chai (tel. 852/2827 8881; www.hongkong.china.embassy.gov.au), and is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.
The New Zealand Consulate is on the 65th floor of Central Plaza, 18 Harbour Rd., Wan Chai (tel. 852/2525 5044; www.nzembassy.com/hong-kong), and is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm.
For information on visa applications to mainland China, contact a tour operator such as China Travel Service.
Emergencies -- All emergency calls in Hong Kong and Macau are free -- just dial tel. 999 for police, fire, or ambulance.
Holidays -- Most Chinese festival holidays are determined by the lunar calendar, which changes each year, while national and Christian religious holidays, such as Labour Day, Easter, or National Day, are the same each year. Note, however, that if a public holiday falls on a Sunday, Monday becomes a holiday.
Public holidays for 2011 are New Year's Day (Jan 1); Lunar New Year (Feb 3-5); Ching Ming Festival (Apr 5); Easter (Good Friday through Easter Monday, Apr 22-25); Labour Day (May 2); Buddha's Birthday (May 10); Tuen Ng Festival (Dragon Boat Festival, June 6); Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day (Hong Kong's return to China, July 1); Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (Sept 13); National Day (Oct 1); Chung Yeung Festival (Oct 5); and Christmas (Dec 25-27). For 2012 lunar holidays, which had not yet been announced at press time, go to www.info.gov.hk/about/abouthk/holiday.
Hospitals -- Hong Kong has more than 40 public hospitals. The following can help you round the clock: Queen Mary Hospital, 102 Pokfulam Rd., Hong Kong Island (tel. 852/2855 3838; www3.ha.org.hk/qmh/index.htm); and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, 30 Gascoigne Rd., Kowloon (tel. 852/2958 8888; www3.ha.org.hk/qeh/index.htm).
Insurance -- For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancelation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Languages -- Before the 1997 handover, English and Cantonese were Hong Kong's two official languages. Now, however, English and "Chinese" are listed as the two official languages. However, there is no one Chinese language. Most Hong Kong and Macau Chinese speak Cantonese, but in Beijing, where the official language is Mandarin (Putonghua), Cantonese is a foreign language. In reality, Mandarin has also become the official language of the SAR and is being taught in Hong Kong schools. At any rate, while Mandarin and Cantonese differ widely, they use the same characters for writing. Therefore, while a Hong Kong Chinese and a mainland Chinese may not be able to communicate orally, they can read each other's newspapers. Chinese characters number in the tens of thousands; knowledge of at least 2,500 characters is necessary to read a newspaper. Chinese is difficult to learn primarily because of the tonal variations. Western ears may find these differences in pronunciation almost impossible to detect, but a slight change in tone changes the whole meaning. One thing you'll notice, however, is that Chinese is spoken loudly -- whispering does not seem to be part of the language.
Despite the fact that English is an official language and is spoken in hotels and tourist shops, few Chinese outside these areas understand it. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, and waiters in many Chinese restaurants do not speak English and will simply shrug their shoulders to your query. To avoid confusion, have someone in your hotel write out your destination in Chinese so that you can show it to your taxi or bus driver (and don't forget to pick up your hotel's card in case you need to show it to a taxi driver for your return). Most Chinese restaurants in tourist areas -- and almost all those listed in this guide -- have English menus. If you need assistance, try asking younger Chinese, since it's more likely that they will have studied English in school.
If you'd like to learn some basic Cantonese before your trip, good choices are Conversational Cantonese Chinese (Pimsleur, 2006) and Berlitz Cantonese Chinese CD Travel Pack (Berlitz, 2003), since both include a CD so you can listen to the tonal differences. Or, to listen to a few key Cantonese phrases, go to HKTB's website at www.discoverhongkong.com and click "Plan Your Trip," then "About Hong Kong," and then "Languages."
Laundromats -- Hotels provide laundry service, though it's expensive. Only a few modestly priced accommodations catering to families have coin-operated washers and dryers. Otherwise, laundromats in Hong Kong and Macau are generally not self-service. Rather, you drop off your laundry and come back a few hours later to fetch your clothes neatly folded. If that's what you need, ask the concierge for the closest one. Clean Living (tel. 852/2333 0141; www.cleanliving.com.hk) is Hong Kong's largest laundry-service provider, with more than 30 branches open daily.
Legal Aid -- Contact your embassy if you find yourself in legal trouble. If you can't afford a solicitor (attorney), contact the Hong Kong government's Legal Aid Department, 24th to 27th floors of the Queensway Government Offices, 66 Queensway (tel. 852/2537 7677; www.lad.gov.hk), which provides legal aid to both residents and nonresidents who become involved in court proceedings, with fees based on a sliding scale according to the client's ability to pay. In addition, the Community Legal Information Centre provides useful information and legal advice on its website, www.hkclic.org, from how to obtain free legal advice to how to find a lawyer.
Lost & Found -- To report stolen or lost property, call the police: tel. 852/2527 7177 in Hong Kong; tel. 853/2857 3333 in Macau, or go to the nearest police station. If you've lost your passport, make a police report at the nearest station and then contact your embassy or consulate for a replacement. The minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, alert all of your credit card companies and file a report at the nearest police station. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's Hong Kong emergency number is tel. 800/900 782. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 852/2811 6122. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/966 677.
Luggage & Storage Lockers -- The best and most convenient place to store luggage is at your hotel, even if you plan on traveling to Macau or China for a couple of days. Otherwise, there are luggage-checking services ("left-luggage") at Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong Station, Kowloon Station, the Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island, and the China Hong Kong Terminal on Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.
Mail -- Postal service is cheap and reliable. Most hotels have stamps and can mail your letters for you. Otherwise, there are plenty of post offices throughout the SAR. Most are open Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 5pm and Saturday from 9:30am to 1pm. The main post office is on Hong Kong Island at 2 Connaught Place, in the Central District (tel. 852/2921 2222), where you'll find stamps sold on the first floor (what those from the U.S. would call the second floor). If you don't know where you'll be staying in Hong Kong, you can have your mail sent to the main post office above as "Poste Restante," where it will be held for 2 months; when you come to collect it, be sure to bring your passport for identification. On the Kowloon side, the main post office is at 10 Middle Rd., which is 1 block north of Salisbury Road (tel. 852/2366 4111). Both are open Monday through Saturday from 8am to 6pm; in addition, the Central post office is open Sunday and holidays from 9am to 5pm, while the Tsim Sha Tsui post office is open Sunday from 9am to 2pm (closed holidays).
Mailboxes are green in Hong Kong. Airmail letters up to 20 grams and postcards cost HK$3 to the United States, Europe, or Australia. You can count on airmail letters to take about 5 to 7 days, sometimes longer, to reach the United States.
Prices for mailing packages vary as follows: Australia surface 5kg HK$181, 10kg HK$213, air 5kg HK$355, 10kg HK$645; U.K. surface 5kg HK$233, 10kg HK$271, air 5kg HK$454, 10kg HK$784; U.S. surface 5kg (11 lb.) HK$251, 10kg (22 lb.) HK$441, air 5kg HK$419, 10kg HK$799. For general inquiries, call tel. 852/2921 2222 or check www.hongkongpost.com/eng/index.htm.
Police -- You can reach the police for an emergency by dialing tel. 999, the same number as for a fire or an ambulance in Hong Kong and Macau. This is a free call. There's also a 24-hour crime hot line in Hong Kong (tel. 852/2527 7177).
Smoking -- Hong Kong is mostly smoke-free, rare in Asia. Smoking is prohibited in virtually all public places, including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, workplaces, shopping malls, and most outdoor areas like public beaches and large swaths of public parks. The fine if you're caught smoking is HK$1,500.
Though there's movement underfoot to ban smoking in Macau, it's currently permitted in public places.
Taxes -- Hong Kong is a duty-free port. In addition, since 2008 the 3% government tax has been waived for hotels and restaurants. A 10% service charge, however, is automatically added to bills for hotels, restaurants, and bars.
In Macau, also a duty-free port, hotels levy a 5% government tax and a 10% service charge on room rates. Restaurants also levy a 10% service charge, but government tax has been waived on the consumption of food and beverages.
Time -- Hong Kong and Macau are 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, 13 hours ahead of New York, 14 hours ahead of Chicago, 16 hours ahead of Los Angeles, and 2 hours ahead of Sydney. Because Hong Kong does not have a daylight saving time, subtract 1 hour from the above times if you're calling the United States in the summer. Because Hong Kong is on the other side of the international date line, you lose 1 day when traveling from North America to Asia. Don't worry -- you gain it back when you return, which means that you arrive back home the same day you left Hong Kong.
Tipping -- Even though restaurants and bars will automatically add a 10% service charge to your bill, you're still expected to leave small change for the waiter (who may never see any of that automatic 10% service charge). A general rule of thumb is to leave 5%, but in most Chinese restaurants where meals are usually inexpensive (less than HK$100), it's acceptable to leave change up to HK$5. In the finest restaurants, you should leave 10%. If you're paying by credit card, pay a cash tip, because a gratuity put on a credit card is likely to go to the restaurant and not the staff.
You're also expected to tip taxi drivers, bellhops, barbers, and beauticians. For taxi drivers, add up to the nearest HK$1, or, for longer hauls, round up to the nearest HK$5; for a HK$23 fare, for example, round up to HK$25. Tip people who cut your hair 5% or 10%, and give bellhops HK$10 to HK$20, depending on the number of your bags. Chambermaids and room attendants are usually given about 2% of the room charge.
Toilets -- The best places to track down public facilities in Hong Kong and Macau are its many hotels, fast-food restaurants, and shopping malls. Attendants on duty nowadays rarely expect tips, but if you encounter one who does, HK$2 is sufficient. Note that the MTR subway stations do not have public facilities. Hotels and tourist sites usually have Western toilets, but you may encounter Chinese toilets on ferries and in rural areas. To use them, squat facing the hood. Since some public facilities may not have toilet paper, be sure to carry tissue (in rural areas, a communal roll of toilet paper may be hanging outside the stalls).
Useful Phone Numbers & Websites -- The Hong Kong Tourism Board's hot line is tel. 852/2508 1234, with service available daily from 9am to 6pm. The Police Crime Hotline is tel. 852/2527 7177. Other useful numbers and websites are:
- Hong Kong's Department of Health tel. 852/2961 8989; www.dh.gov.hk
- Hong Kong Telephone Directory Enquiries tel. 1081 for local numbers, tel. 10013 for international numbers
- Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government www.gov.hk
Visas -- No visas are required for citizens of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, or Australia. For more information, go to www.gov.hk/en/nonresidents.
Water -- It's considered safe to drink urban tap water in Hong Kong and Macau, though most people prefer bottled water, which is widely available. In summer it's wise to carry bottled water with you. Some hotels have their own purification systems; many more provide a free bottle of water in their rooms. I always drink the water and have never gotten ill. If you travel into rural Hong Kong or China, however, drink only bottled water.
Weather -- If you want to check the day's temperature and humidity level in Hong Kong or the 2-day forecast, dial tel. 187 8200 for a free weather report in English. Otherwise, if a storm is brewing and you're worried about a typhoon, tune in to one of Hong Kong's English-language TV channels, either TVB Pearl or ATV World, or go to the Hong Kong Observatory's website at www.hko.gov.hk.