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My dad recently came to visit my partner and I in Hong Kong. Mom stayed at home because she’s claustrophobic and scared of flying. You would be too if you had been in a commercial plane crash landing and an elevator accident. She’s fine on four or five hour hops but anything longer than that and she starts to stare at the exit door longingly.

Dad arrived earlier than anticipated. I felt like a bad son when I realized he had been waiting for me just outside of customs. I’d actually arrived an hour early but was killing time at an airport bar. Typical. I grabbed Dad’s suitcase and we jumped in a taxi. I could tell that he was very happy to see me and very excited to be in Asia for the first time. After over seven years in the Far East, I just couldn’t move to London without insisting he come to visit me. He’d already been to South America and Africa. I wanted him to step foot on the Asian continent too.

But what to do? You can’t exactly go bar hoping with dad. Besides, I don’t go bar hopping anymore. That ship has sailed. I of course was prepared with my own list of what to do.

Top Ten:

1. Star Ferry: This is a no brainer. In a city with countless ferry rides going every which way including the Chinese mainland and Macau, this is the classic journey. In under ten minutes you make the trip from Hong Kong Island to the Kowloon Peninsula. It’s like going from Manhattan to Brooklyn but on a grander scale. When your dad is back home watching a travel program on TV, he’ll smile and say, “I did that”.

2. The Peak: Another no brainer. It’s arguably the best vantage point from which to view Hong Kong. Spectacular! From the skyscrapers of Hong Kong to the skyscrapers of Kowloon, the harbor that separates them and the green hills and mountains that surround them. Just try not to go on a foggy day. You won’t see squat. Unfortunately, it was foggy and rainy during my dad’s entire visit. I took him up to the peak anyway, showed him a picture of what he would be viewing had a cloud not descended from the sky. Incidentally, you don’t have to go to the tourist trap Peak Gallery to view the skyline. There are parks and trails with equally impressive vistas of the city up there.

3. Kowloon Public Pier: Another vantage point from with to take in this amazing city. You’ve seen it from the top of the peak on the Hong Kong side, now see it from ground level on the Kowloon side. If the peak offers a more gestalt overview, the pier offers a more immediate engagement with the city. You feel the pulse, see the ferries, hear the crowds, the noise.

4. Mid-level escalators: Only in Hong Kong would an open air escalator be a tourist draw. It’s funny because when we first arrived, I thought this “ride” was pretty cool. It is the longest outdoor escalator ride (it is divided into many sections) in the world. But as a resident of Hong Kong, the novelty quickly faded. I regard the escalators as nothing more than a way to get from point A to point B. Only when we have visitors and I’m taking them around town do I think, “Wow, this is really cool”.

5. The markets: The outdoor markets are part of life in Hong Kong. Some are touristy (the night market), some are not (in and around Gough Street), and some are stinky (Des Voeux Street West Dried Seafood street). There are many markets where locals pick up fresh produce, flowers, meat, etc. I recommend the one in Wanchai, although the one around Gough Street is more scenic. Cat Street is a great place to shop for novelty items in an outdoor setting. If you want to buy legitimate antiques though, just walk up the stairs from Cat Street to Hollywood Road West. While not technically a market, this patch of Hollywood Road offers a number of upscale shops and art galleries.

The second half of the list is more personal. Yes, Hong Kong is an exciting place to visit, but it’s not exactly teaming with world class museums and world renowned parks. You have to tailor the experience for the guest. In this case, my dad was game for anything I wanted to do, so I took him to the places that I like to frequent.

6. The Peninsula Hotel: Worthy of every accolade, this grand hotel never fails to live up to its praise, especially at Christmas when a gorgeous tree, meticulously adorned, graces the historic lobby. You can have high tea here but I recommend after dinner drinks. While the martinis might not be the coldest or biggest in Hong Kong, the handsome interior of this gorgeous lobby filled with live jazz will whisk you back to another time. Skip the Felix bar and restaurant up top. It’s overhyped and touristy. The main lobby is where you want to be.

7. Morton’s Steakhouse: This is where we go before a nightcap at the Peninsula next door. You might think it’s odd that a vegetarian would be promoting a steakhouse. Think again. This vegetarian enjoys crisp salads, delicious sides and the biggest, coldest martinis in Hong Kong. And on top of that, you get a view of the harbor from the wall of windows in this fourth floor restaurant. Make reservations in advance, request a table by the window and dazzle your guests with the nightly 8:00pm light show over Hong Kong harbor. Is it cheesy? Yes. But all the main buildings in town participate and the show lasts for fifteen minutes. You can be a kid again. A kid with a very cold, dry martini.

8. Shopping malls: Hong Kong used to be known as the place to go for cheap designer knockoffs. Those days are long gone. Today, monied mainland Chinese tourists take shopping holidays in Hong Kong. They spend three to seven days sprinting from high-end shop to high-end shop, dropping loads of cash in the process. I recommend Elements in Kowloon, or my personal favorite, Pacific Place in Hong Kong–the “old” standby newly and tastefully remodelled. After a day of shopping, I suggest a late afternoon cocktail in the main bar of The Upper House hotel for gorgeous views high above the city. Chic and minimalist, this place oozes no-nonsense sophistication.

9. Stanley: On the opposite side of Hong Kong Island sits a former fishing village that is now home to a number of expat families, as well as heaps of tourist and local friendly bars and restaurants. A taxi will get you there faster but I recommend the Number Six bus. Take your guests up to the second level and try to get a seat up front. It’s Hong Kong’s version of a Disney ride. You’ll leave Central Hong Kong and climb up the green mountain, skyscrapers below, before slowly descending into Stanley, gorgeous vistas everywhere you turn, high-end condos perched along the sides of mountains.

10. Macau: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Macau as a Hong Kong asset. More than just the Las Vegas of Asia, this place offers a unique blend of East and West, Portuguese and Chinese. Sure, you can gamble at night if that’s your thing but I highly recommend grabbing a map and visiting the historic sights of this amazing city. Everyone loves Fernando’s restaurant, but I’d also include a dinner at Club Militar. Good food, great setting. And nothing beats The Wynn casino. Big and vibrant yet classy and sophisticated. Oh and the casino’s Cinnebar makes a mean martini.

We’re supposed to leave Hong Kong in the next few months. I’ll miss this place, definitely more than I missed Tokyo. But who knows? We could find ourselves living here again sometime in the future. Life is a adventure. Live it.


I love Macau. Everyone who knows me knows this. An hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong, I can literally wake up in the morning, go about my day, decide that I want to have lunch in Macau, grab my passport, and in less than two hours, I’m seated in the lovely dining hall of the colonial gem that is Club Militar, glass of red wine in hand, delicious Serra cheese on the table.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in China. Inspired by trade, they set up shop on what is now the peninsula of Macau and began a long and often combative relationship with their landlord. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend A Macau Narrative by Austin Coates. Reads like a real life version of One Hundred Years of Solitude. A comedy of errors really. But what a comedy!

I go to Macau about once every six weeks. Sometimes I go alone, occasionally with friends, always with visiting friends, but mostly I go with my partner. In the beginning, he was happy to go along. Then it became, “We always go to Macau. I want to spend weekends visiting other places in Asia. Why do we always have to Macau?”

I ignored him of course.

Obviously, we spend a few days or longer at other Asian destinations. But we always go back to Macau. Go back for the relative calm of its cobblestone streets, its centuries old churches, its ancient Buddhist temples, its grand colonial buildings, its glitzy casinos, and its secluded beaches. But mostly, we go back for the food.

The Portuguese had to sail around Africa, India and Southeast Asia to make it to Macau. That’s a lot of spice they brought with them. Mix that in with Chinese cuisine and you get one exotic wallop. Macanese cuisine is fusion cuisine, and was so long before “fusion cuisine” was made hip by modern chefs. African chicken, coconut curry crab, clams bathed in garlic and cumin, cod so soft it slides off the fork, slow-roasted pork. And that’s just what I can’t eat.

As a vegetarian, people often think that I miss out on all the fun. Sometimes they’re right. Not in Macau. Just typing the words “Portuguese cheese” makes my stomach growl. Egg tarts, flan, egg custard, samosas, butter rice, steamed veggies in garlic broth and herbs, and this amazing bread that is a bit more doughy than a traditional baguette and even more delicious.

At A Petisqueria, our favorite restaurant in Macau, they even have this rich and oh so spicy red chili sauce you can use to drip on your meals. I drip it on my bread and cheese, snap into a fetal position and melt onto the floor. And don’t let me get started on Macau tomatoes. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me. Especially at Fernando’s in Coloane near the beach, the tomatoes are amazing.

If you’re a lush like me, you’ll enjoy “learning” about and “discovering” all the wonders of Portuguese wine. The ports too. In fact, there is a wine museum–one of the many museums in Macau. We went there last weekend. A drunken Filipino poured my tasting selection. He asked me where I was from. And when I said I was American but that I lived in Hong Kong, he said, “No, like you know: Chinese, Indian, Portuguese…”

And that’s one of the things I also like about Macau, there is a lot of blending in its people. Sure, it’s mostly Chinese. And there is a small, active and very proud Portuguese community. But there are many Eurasians. How could there not be after over 400 years of Portuguese rule? As a Mexican with Spanish, indigenous (Aztec/Mayan) and German blood, I look like I could be from a number of different places. I get some mix of Chinese, Italian, Filipino, Middle-Eastern all the time. You should see how much fun I have at airports back in the US! In Macau, I fit right in.

Then, there is the main reason people visit Macau. Gambling. I’m not a big gambler but I do like to play roulette now and then. My partner prefers blackjack. We cap off most nights in the city with a visit to one of the many casinos, The Wynn being our favorite. I usually watch my partner gamble while I keep the vodka coming. Chinese gamblers don’t like to drink alcohol when they play, only coffee or tea. So you have to flag down a waitress to special order a drink.

Lastly, there are the hotels and resorts. Most big name casinos operate their own hotels, but there are a number of hotels, both big and small, that are not in the gaming business. We tend to stay at those establishments. As I said, I’m not a big gambler, so it’s not important for me to have a casino downstairs (nearby, but not downstairs). I prefer a morning at the gym and a noon spa treatment followed by an afternoon margarita by the pool. Lately, we’ve been staying at both the newish Mandarin Oriental and its sister property, the old Mandarin Oriental, now called The Grand Lapa. Neither one runs a casino, but there is one a short walk away. The MGM and The Wynn for the Mandarin Oriental, The Sands for the Grand Lapa.

I’m always a bit sad when I step on to the ferry that will take me back to Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hong Kong. I just love Macau.