- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

HONG KONG — Visiting Hong Kong brings out the urge to splurge. Travelers are surrounded by glitzy shopping arcades filled with boutiques and stores selling the hottest fashions and the latest electronic gizmos.

It is easy, though, to have a great time on $20 a day — just more than 150 Hong Kong dollars — in the city whose name means “fragrant harbor” in Chinese.

A good place to start is on one of the old wood-sided streetcars that clatter along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island. The brightly painted rail cars belong to the world’s only fully double-decker tram fleet.

Jump aboard a tram on Queen’s Road in Central Hong Kong, climb to the second tier, and sit back and watch the blue-suited office workers and the designer-bag-toting shopping queens scurry around in the canyon of skyscrapers.

It’s a wonderful urban show for about a quarter a ride.

Get off the tram at Wanchai — the setting for the 1960 Hollywood blockbuster “The World of Suzie Wong” — and walk a few blocks toward the harbor. Find the pedestrian bridge that leads to Central Plaza, the city’s second-tallest building.

During business hours, tourists can take the Central Plaza’s elevator to the Sky Lobby, which wraps around the 46th floor, providing a free panoramic view of the harbor to the north, skyscrapers to the west, and mountains and the Happy Valley horse track to the southeast.

As you leave Central Plaza, walk toward the turtle-shaped Convention and Exhibition Centre on the waterfront and hop on another of Hong Kong’s classic transport systems: the Star Ferries, which have been cruising back and forth between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for more than a century.

For about 28 cents, the ferries provide spectacular views of one of the world’s most dazzling waterfronts. The best time to sail is during a clear night when the skyscrapers and billboards are lit up on Hong Kong Island. The ferry in Wanchai goes to Tsim Sha Tsui, one of Kowloon’s most famous shopping districts.

Kowloon’s waterfront has a variety of cultural venues for budget prices. The Hong Kong Cultural Centre has free performances in its foyer Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons. Next door, the bulbous Space Museum displays astronomy and science items — admission is about $1.30 — and houses an Imax theater.

The Museum of Art features calligraphy, paintings and jade artifacts, also about $1.30 a ticket.

The path to the museums eventually leads into the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Stars such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li have their names and handprints in concrete slabs on the sidewalk.

For cheap eats at lunch, forget McDonald’s. Try some of the local fast food served up by the seemingly ubiquitous chains Maxim’s, Cafe de Coral and Fairwood. They sell traditional Chinese barbecue and some Western hybrids such as Cantonese spaghetti for as little as $2.50 or so a meal.

Take the ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central on Hong Kong Island, and walk a few blocks up the hill to Hong Kong Park. For no charge, visitors can stroll through fountains and the massive bird sanctuary.

If you’re tired of walking, head to the Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest of its kind in the world.

The moving stairs take people from Des Voeux Road (near the Central Mass Transit Railway subway station) to the Mid-Levels, a neighborhood popular with expatriates.

The escalator goes past funky little restaurants; pubs; and shops selling clothes, paintings and other items.

Finish the day at Lan Kwai Fong, the Western-style bar district, which just happens to be near the end of the escalator route. “The Fong” is a single block of pubs and trendy restaurants.

A couple of beers at about $6.40 a bottle can quickly blow your budget, so here’s a local trick: Pop into a convenience store in the neighborhood and buy a bottle of beer for about $1.30.

Take your beverage to the Fong, where the crowds usually spill out of the pubs and become a big block party. Sip your drink and toast yourself for spending nearly nothing in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

For more information, visit www.discoverhongkong.com/usa or call 800/282-4582.

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