Baltimore Sun, March 2007
When it comes to shopping, there’s nothing quite like finding a bargain. Whether it’s via a clip-out coupon from the newspaper, a holiday sale or an annual sale, there’s a certain rush about finding something you want for less (how else can you explain the throngs of people who head out at 6 a.m., the day after Thanksgiving?). However, after you get home, take a look at the “Made In” label on your clothes. Chances are, many of them will say China. So, if you want to experience real savings, why not cut out the middleman and head to the Far East for a once-in-a-lifetime shopping experience?
Last fall, my partner and I were planning a trip to Thailand when he suggested – rather strongly I recall – that we make a stopover in Hong Kong for shopping. Anxious to get to Thailand, I hesitated, as I didn’t want the time in Hong Kong to cut into our Thailand vacation time; however, he had said numerous times that his last trip to Hong Kong was amazing. Although not much of a shopper, I gave in, knowing that at the worst, the time in Hong Kong would allow me to get adjusted to the time difference. Little did I know that within no time, I would find myself rushing around Hong Kong, bouncing from shop to shop and making frequent trips back to the hotel to lighten my load of countless bags of goodies.
Hong Kong has been a shopper’s paradise for years, and even though prices have climbed since the handover from Great Britain to China in 1997, the savings are unreal. In Hong Kong, you can find anything – clothes, jewelry boxes, silk pajamas and more. Hong Kong is not a place where you pick up some souvenir trinkets; instead, it is a place where you arrive with empty suitcases and will still end up buying suitcases to ship home.
Although direct flights are available from the West Coast, we flew from Washington Dulles International Airport to Tokyo, and then onto Hong Kong. And, yes, the flight is long – very long – but go ahead and embrace the long travel time and make the best of it. Between watching movies, reading travel guides and catching some shuteye, I was surprised that the flight time didn’t bother me more. Flights to Hong Kong arrive on Lantau Island, and airport trains depart every 10 minutes to take you downtown where most hotels are located. Due to the late arrival of our flight, we opted to book a limousine service through our hotel, which was wonderful.
Speaking of hotels, although shopping bargains are aplenty, hotel bargains are tough to come by, so do plenty of research. If you’d like to stay in one of Hong Kong’s famous hotels such as The Peninsula or the Hotel Intercontinental (formerly called the Regent), be prepared to spend around $400/night. However, one needn’t spend that much for a wonderful hotel in a great location. We decided to book an Executive Suite in the Eaton Hotel (www.eaton-hotel.com), which is conveniently located in Kowloon on Nathan Road, for about $250/night. Lesser expensive rooms are available; however, the suite is worth the difference, as daily breakfast and complimentary evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the Planter’s Bar, which has excellent nightly live entertainment, are included.
After sleeping in a bit, we decided that in order to shop until we dropped, we’d need some food for energy. Usually I am opposed to eating in hotel restaurants, but we couldn’t find a better meal than in the Eaton’s restaurant, Yat Tung Heen, which features Cantonese cuisine and amazing Dim Sum, the perfect way to begin our Chinese vacation.
Now, it’s time for shopping! Since our hotel was conveniently located on Nathan Road, we decided to hit these shops first. Dubbed as Hong Kong’s Golden Mile, Nathan Road is packed with department stores and specialty shops. Before I went to Hong Kong, I assumed that Hong Kong’s shopping was restricted to crowded markets; however, Nathan Road’s extensive name-brand stores would make Chicago’s Michigan Avenue envious, and the service is top-notch. I paid around $30 for a pair of Timberland shoes that would have cost me about $100 in the States. Also on Nathan Road, check out U2 for great prices on jeans, casual sweaters and tops and Hang Ten, which has great specials. The store that did the most damage to our wallets was bossini, a Hong Kong-based company that will remind Americans of the Gap. The deals here are not to be missed. I picked up several pairs of jeans, slacks, shirts, two jackets and accessories – all for under $100. Amazingly, I was able to get a pair of $12 slacks altered for free and ready the next day. Another highlight on Nathan Road is the adorable children’s shop, Colour Gain, where I bought stuffed animals for my newborn niece.
At night, in Kowloon, head to the Temple Street Market (at Temple Street and Jordan Road). Here, vendors selling souvenirs (collectors of Mao Tse-Tung memorabilia will find plenty here), clothes and leather goods; fortune-tellers (all male); and opera singers belting music from the balconies above make every night feel like a festival. One especially good find are belts by craftsmen who will make a custom leather belt for about one-fourth what you would pay in a department store. You get to choose the color and pattern of the belt and buckle (from about 50 choices), and they will cut the belt, size it for your waist size and attach the buckle. Not only is it fun to watch, you’ll also never have a belt fit so well. Near the waterfront in Kowloon are the chic hotels and shopping for those where cost is not a factor. Think Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Chanel.
Of course, no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a trip to Stanley Market, located on Hong Kong Island. Although not necessarily the cheapest or best market, it’s the old guard of markets and offers plenty of souvenirs, clothes and accessories. Getting to Hong Kong Island via the Star Ferry is fun and inexpensive; however, we took a taxi back due to the number of bags we had (a taxi ride also allows you to see beautiful beaches). I found plenty of T-shirts, baby clothes, silk shirts and trinkets to take home. Also, Stanley Market has lots of luggage stores, and, although we arrived with empty suitcases, we still had to purchase a large suitcase to get our treasures home. Here’s a tip: if Hong Kong is not your final destination, ask the hotel if they can arrange to have suitcases shipped home. Since we were continuing for two weeks in Thailand and did not need the sweaters and gifts we bought, we shipped home our new suitcase for only about $150, which was arranged for us by the hotel, allowing us to drop off one very large, heavy suitcase at the lobby.
Shopping is not the only thing to do in Hong Kong, although it may prevent you from having time to do much else. Take a ride on the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak for breathtaking views or take a ride on the escalator on Hong Kong Island for gorgeous vistas and a peek at some of the world’s most expensive homes. For great dining, creative cocktails and waterfront views, take in dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kowloon where movers and shakers meet. The food is outstanding and the views of Victoria Harbor are beautiful at night.