Exploring Hong Kong by Steven K. Bailey

This travel guide recently appeared at my local Barnes & Noble and immediately set itself apart from the traditional books on its shelf. After leafing through a few pages I recognized Mr. Bailey’s approach to travel writing had much the same spirit as what we are trying to do here at weninchina.com.

The book is oriented by geography much like other travel books (Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories, etc.), runs a similar page length (just over 180 pp) and price ($14.95). However, it is different from the usual Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guides in two important ways: first, it does not go into any depth on which restaurants / clubs / hotels are in the must-see-and-be-seen-at category; no HK Disney reviews; and no interviews with local tastemakers. (After all, despite its recent 2009 copyright, these things change in a blink in HK.) Second, the author uses very specific activities - such as riding the Travelator from Central up to the Mid-Levels, hiking down from Victoria Peak, or crossing Lamma Island by foot - as a framework to tell longer stories of the history and people of Hong Kong.

And instead of trying to cover every neighborhood, Steven goes into depth on a narrow set of places that a first- or second-time visitor may be more likely to explore. His chapter on Victoria Peak, for instance, runs 22 pages. Steven also dedicates multiple pages to specific enthusiast activities that I’ve never seen in traditional guides - airplane spotting, train watching, military history, law enforcement, and several more. (I learned about a pair of excellent airliner-watching spots that I’ll have to try next time!)

Another unique and handy section is dedicated to activities especially appropriate for hot and rainy days, that kids and parents can all enjoy.

There is a thoughtful emphasis throughout the book on how to get around Hong Kong quickly but inexpensively - often including walking directions from MTR stations or ferry terminals (as that’s how the locals really move about).

Photography in the book is by Steven’s wife, Jill Witt, and is of high quality, although I’d have liked to see much more to accompany and illustrate the conversational text. There is some repetition in the book’s “how to get there” sidebars as well, although not noticeable if you aren’t reading the book straight through. Maps of local neighborhoods give the basics but could be a bit more fleshed-out (although if you’re also using a conventional guidebook or one of the many free maps you can get in HK, that is perhaps not a big issue.)

Overall, the book strikes the tone of a friend who lives in HK and wants to take you to the things people don’t see when in an organized tour group - often just a block off the ‘beaten path’ or around the corner of a building. My family’s experience holds this to be true, too - we found Victoria Peak to be a much more relaxed and friendly place once we walked to the back-side of its shopping center so our daughter could ride on the playground equipment and we could watch the Pacific Ocean - or in walking along the footpath on the side of the mountain almost to ourselves. Along with the expected and still-exciting activities like riding the Star Ferry and watching the evening laser light show on the harbor, Steven shows us the quieter and less-stereotyped vision of Hong Kong that is no less fascinating.

If you’re planning to spend three or more days in Hong Kong, even if you have been there before, this book is highly recommended reading, especially for families.


Standard blogging disclosure: this book was paid for with our own funds.