My favorite guidebooks are the ones that give me the background and the little tips that make me feel like a resident when I am visiting, so naturally I look for guidebooks written by people who have lived in the place they write about. While in Hong Kong recently, I was given a copy of Exploring Hong Kong, began reading it at night in my hotel room and gobbled it in one sitting—it is that sort of book—informative, conversational and absolutely gorgeous. From the clarity of its maps to the beauty of its photographs to the satisfying weight when held in the hands, it is a lovely object as well as a very good book indeed.
What Exploring Hong Kong is not is a laundry list of hotels and restaurants and shops; what this book gives you are neighborhoods--ways to explore them, how to reach them and what to enjoy when you get there. It offers the conventional sightseeing destinations and then gives pointers that only a resident would know—the exact details of how to ride the Travelator, the most challenging way of hiking down Victoria Peak, where to find a tiny piece of Thailand in the shadow of Kowloon Walled City Park, the best vantage point for viewing the nightly Symphony of Lights, which of Kowloon’s street markets is the place to buy “hell money,” where to find pink dolphins off the coast of Lantau Island and where to go surfing on the island of Hong Kong
The natural world is still alive and well in Hong Kong and its environs, Bailey tells his readers, and a large portion of his book tells how to enjoy this little-known facet of one of the world’s great cities. Wild boars, feral cattle, macaques, packs of dogs that resemble Australia’s dingoes are some of the wildlife that visitors may encounter when they leave the sidewalks behind, and mountain climbing, kite flying, and tent camping are offered as alternatives to Hong Kong’s more urban pleasures. Ancient walled villages and “a windswept island of ghosts” are easy to reach and explore when readers are provided with Bailey’s careful and lucid instructions.
Perhaps the most invaluable information provided by Exploring Hong Kong is found in its first chapter, Traveling Around Hong Kong: An Instruction Manual, which explains why Hong Kong’s biggest bargain is its Octopus card. But as a devoted eater, I am most fond of the hints on where to find the best egg tarts, where to drink the highest form of available caffeine, tea mixed with coffee, where to find Five Flowers Tea, and where migrant Filipinas find their favorite comfort food.
Whether you will be in Hong Kong tomorrow or are planning to visit “someday,” Exploring Hong Kong is essential reading. Bailey and Witt, who launched their series with Strolling Macau, say their latest wanderings have been in Hanoi, with a guidebook to that city coming soon. I’m ready to go…--by Janet Brown