What’s it like doing business in Hong Kong? A regular shares his views on how to get there, where to stay and some do’s and don’ts.
Name: Imbert Fung
Lives in: Singapore
Job: Director Southeast Asia of travel search engine KAYAK
How often do you travel to Hong Kong, and who do you fly with?
I go to Hong Kong at least every two to three months. When travelling for business I typically fly with Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. In addition to lounge access, flying with the full-service carriers can save you a lot of time. The HK airport is huge and low-cost carriers have a higher chance of parking in a spot that is not directly connected to the terminal on arrival or being assigned a gate that is miles from customs clearance and security on departure. The full-service carriers are also more likely to offer mobile or self-print boarding passes, which means you can avoid the check-in queues.
When visiting Hong Kong for pleasure I fly either Jetstar, Scoot or Tiger depending on price and flight time. These airlines tend to offer red-eye flights to Hong Kong and late night flights back to Singapore so I can maximise my time in Hong Kong. And, of course, I like to use KAYAK so that I can see all of my flight options with just one search.
What’s one thing everyone ought to know about Hong Kong?
It’s a fast-paced, bustling city. People walk fast, eat fast and talk fast. So don’t get caught standing idle in a busy subway station or on a busy street corner or you would most certainly get bumped into!
How quickly can you get a visa? Online, embassy or visa on arrival?
For those with a passport from Canada, the US and most European countries, a visa is not required for a short trip.
Fastest way into and around the city?
The fastest way to travel between the airport and Central in downtown Hong Kong is the Airport Express train, which takes 30 minutes or less. Once in the city, taxis are fairly cheap and plentiful. The subway is another reliable option as the system is clean and very efficient. For peak-hour travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, avoid the cross-harbour car tunnels and instead take the subway.
If you happen to be travelling between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui and your destination is close to the ferry terminals, I recommend taking the Star Ferry. It will be much faster than battling the cross-harbour traffic, and on a clear day, the ferry gives you a great view of the Hong Kong skyline, which is second to none.
When are the good and bad times to visit?
Between June and September it can be very hot and humid. In early October, during China’s Golden Week, tens of thousands of tourists flock to the city, making the popular areas extremely crowded.
On the other hand, Hong Kong winters are quite mild, so November and December offers the best weather. Also, Chinese New Year week in late January or early February can be a great time to visit. Unlike in Singapore, Hong Kong residents tend to stay in town for the holiday so it’s a great opportunity to get a taste of the local traditions and festivities. While many businesses and government offices are closed during Chinese New Year, most restaurants and shops in the busiest areas are open.
Which hotels do you recommend?
There are lots of great hotels in Hong Kong so if you check out online reviews, it’s hard to go wrong. The most important thing is to pick a good location. I like to try different hotels in the city, and what I usually do is use KAYAK to see both the reviews and the mapped location of all the options. For a business trip, the JW Marriott in Admiralty is a solid pick. It sits atop a mall that has decent restaurants, cafes, and direct access to the subway station, and it’s close to both the main business and shopping areas. Since it’s so easy to get around the city on the subway, I always pick a hotel near an MTR station.
Many headquarters and meeting venues tend to be near Central and the best shopping is in Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui. To be close to the expat-friendly nightlife, look in Central or Wanchai. The best spot to get a bit of local flair (crowds, shopping, and food) is Mong Kok.
What’s the dress code for meetings?
Business people in Hong Kong tend to dress more formally but it depends on the industry. For people working in finance, consulting, law, and luxury, suits are common, even during the blistering summer months.
Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
Hong Kong’s business etiquette is very westernised but can be quite pragmatic, which means there may be less small talk before meetings. Bring plenty of business cards – exchanging them is common.
If you’re taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
My two favourite places to take clients for dinner are Aqua in Tsim Sha Tsui for great views of the skyline and Amber inside The Landmark in Central. For lunch, I like Green at Hotel ICON in Tsim Sha Tsui. The décor is bright, the atmosphere is relaxed and the food is reliably good. For lunch in Central I like Sevva – it’s hip but still professional. To find more restaurants, openrice.com is a handy resource
Any casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
Personally, I find the bars in Central oftentimes too noisy and crowded. I think the expat-friendly bars in Knutsford Terrace in Tsim Sha Tsui are better places to talk and relax. If you need a place in Central, Sevva is a good option.
Any unsafe areas to avoid?
Hong Kong is generally very safe; just be wary of pickpockets in crowded areas.
If you’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
My favourite lesser-known must-sees and dos are:
- shop and eat like a local in Mong Kok
- check out the city skyline from the Star Ferry
- catch a horse race in Happy Valley
- take the tram across Hong Kong island to watch city life go by (but be aware there’s no air-con on board)
- explore Sheung Wan with its older buildings, dried seafood/medicinal shops and antique shops to get a glimpse of the Hong Kong from decades past
- delve deep into history at the Coastal Defence Museum, which sports an outdoor area with a fantastic sea view
What gifts are good to take home for family and friends?
A popular item to bring home is “wife cake”, a type of Hong Kong pastry. Most local pastry shops will have it. You’ll find lots of knick-knacks, memorabilia, small electronics, clothing and toys at the Ladies’ Market or Flower Market in Mong Kok. For Apple fans like me, there is an enormous flagship store in Causeway Bay and in Central, and Apple prices in Hong Kong are among the lowest in the world. Tech lovers should check out the computer shopping centres in Wan Chai (good), Mong Kok (better), or Sham Shui Po (best) where there’s a huge array of gadgetry.
If you’re tight on time, there’s decent shopping at the airport too.
Best local street food or dish?
I’m a fan of the curry fishball – you can find this everywhere but my favourite shop is immediately outside Yau Ma Tei subway station exit A2. I also recommend trying the street-stall version of siu mai, which is quite different from the sit-down dim sum version. Eggettes or egg waffles are another favourite. Also, steamed rice cupcakes with red bean – you can find these in many local pastry shops but my favourite is the one immediately outside Sham Shui Po subway station exit B2. The more adventurous eaters should get in the fast-moving queue at Fei Jie in Mong Kok for skewers of red sausage, octopus, chicken gizzard and innards, among other delicacies.
At the end of a trip, how long do you really need to get to the airport and get checked in?
From the Airport Express train station in Central Hong Kong, you can be at the airport in 20 to 30 minutes. It will take 30 to 50 minutes in a taxi.
The airport is quite efficient and I typically arrive 75 to 90 minutes before my flight. If I already have a boarding pass and don’t have luggage to check in, 60 minutes is usually sufficient. As a gauge, end your last business meeting no later than 2.5 hours before your plane’s departure time.
Tell us a personal anecdote from one of your trips to this city that will give readers a feel for staying there or doing business there.
After being in Hong Kong for a few days, it can start to feel like Manhattan on steroids. The pace of the city is frenetic and exciting, and it’s so efficient to get around that you can easily cram two to three days’ worth of activities into one.
Living in Singapore and want to check out some new neighbourhoods?
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