Perhaps it’s a legacy of the practical “can-do” philosophy of this city, but women hold some of the Special Administrative Region’s most powerful positions.
The upshot is that Hong Kong women don’t expect to be treated like second-class citizens and, as a result, aren’t. There are none of those practices, seen elsewhere in Asia, that revolve around keeping a respectful half step behind one’s man. Naturally, this refreshing sense of self-confidence tends to embrace female visitors, too.
Hong Kong is not a place where a single woman need feel inhibited about waltzing into a bar, eating alone in a restaurant, or, for that matter, wandering solo through darkened streets.
The greatest danger anyone faces when, for example, sampling the late-night delights of Temple Street Market, is not gender-specific.
Pickpockets, unfortunately, cannot be totally eradicated, but at least they are equal-opportunity villains. The usual adages to do with looking after your valuables and taking advantage of hotel safes is equally gender-unspecific, and applies to residents as well as visitors.
It’s a sociological puzzle as to why the crime rate in Hong Kong is as low as it is. After all, this is an extremely crowded metropolis – home to some of the world’s richest dynasties, not shy about flaunting their wealth – and an equally competitive environment. Yet, despite expectations to the contrary, and by contrast with the plots of flamboyant kung fu movies shot locally, the crime rate is low compared with other major cities, according to Hong Kong Police figures.
As any long-time female resident of Hong Kong will attest, the streets are safe. No one gives a second thought to hailing a taxi at 3:00 am, barhopping until dawn, or withdrawing money from an automatic teller machine in a quiet alley.
One major reason Hong Kong generally proves a liberating experience for single women visitors is the reliable transport system.
Taxis are ubiquitous, reasonably priced and safe. In the downtown nightlife areas, they cluster around the popular entertainment venues throughout the night. They operate around the clock so that even the hardiest night owl never need worry about getting home. Nor is rural living particularly divorced from the transport grid, as taxis can be summoned by phone from the remotest New Territories village.
And there’s nothing eerie about Hong Kong’s underground railway, or MTR, which runs until 1:00 am. Unlike many underground railways in the West, Hong Kong’s MTR is well lit, well supervised and non-compartmentalized, so travelers don’t need to worry about being caught in a carriage with a dubious looking stranger. MTR carriages are open from front to back, and are constantly monitored by the railway police and MTR staff – one reason why they are also graffiti-free.
With all the city’s safe transport options, Hong Kong is definitely not a place where single-women visitors feel trapped in their hotel rooms after dusk.
Indeed, traveling alone has its advantages – namely, the freedom to set one’s own agenda and travel at one’s own pace. But there are niggling little disadvantages. When it comes to eating out, western restaurants pose little challenge, so long as you don’t hanker after the entrecote special for two. Chinese restaurants, on the other hand, are generally geared up to cater to groups, and a single diner is unlikely to be able to get through a standard meal, which generally includes two or three dishes as well as rice.
The answer is not to eschew one of Hong Kong’s greatest attractions, its cuisine. Instead, turn to the back of the menu to the special rice and noodle dishes. These generally provide a satisfying meal, with plenty of variety, for one. A bowl of rice with roast duck and red-cooked pork, for example, can be supplemented with a plate of flash-cooked vegetables. Noodles come plain, fried, in soup, with or without dumplings, and accompanied by a range of delicacies, spices and flavors.
Another disadvantage of single status concerns exploring Hong Kong’s trails and country parks. Many visitors are astonished to find that around 70% of Hong Kong’s total area is rural land, and 40% of that area classified as country park land, all offering some spectacular hikes. But much of the countryside is remote, and some of the trails are secluded and challenging even for experienced walkers, and so should not be explored alone, by anyone. A simple twisted ankle could spell disaster. The answer? Hire a guide.
As any single traveler knows, even those who relish solitude, books play an important role in staving off the occasional bout of loneliness. There is no shortage of bookshops in Hong Kong, but for those looking to devour them in bulk, it’s worth exploring the second-hand book scene. Some of these outlets will also buy your read books from you. You can find English language books in several such establishments throughout the city.
The Helena May, established by the wife of a former British Governor of Hong Kong before the First World War as a home away from home for women, is today a women’s club with an excellent library, accommodation for single women, and an innovative activities program.
Although it caters primarily to Hong Kong residents, it is sympathetic to visitors and offers guest memberships (Visitors can join as resident members to stay and use the facilities in The Helena May. Each resident is required to pay HK$100 entrance fee and a monthly subscription of HK$50.) tel: (852) 2522 6766. The Helena May, located next to the lower Peak Tram terminus, is also one of the last colonial structures in Hong Kong, and provides a wonderful afternoon tea. (Note that The Helena May dress code for the Main Lounge and public areas is Smart Casual. Singlets, sportswear, beachwear and flip-flops are not considered proper attire for either gender. However, tailored shorts to the knee are allowable.) http://www.helenamay.com/
But the Helena May is unusual. Given that Hong Kong today is an equal opportunities town, there is relatively little in the way of facilities established especially for women.
The YWCA (3 MacDonnell Road, Hong Kong) offers a series of activities, including drop-in mahjong sessions, but, again, catering primarily to members. Nevertheless, it is worth a visit to reception for details of programmes for tourists.
What the YWCA doesn’t do is exclude men from staying in its rooms. Women-only floors, and rooms catering to female executives, are available, but are a rarity in Hong Kong because, say hoteliers, demand is low – women already feel safe. Some hotels have experimented with such facilities, but found that female guests simply weren’t interested.
The blurring of gender-related demand also extends into what used to be considered “women’s tours.” One of the guides during the World Bank/IMF conference held in Hong Kong in late 1997 was amazed to find so many men interested in “spouse tours” to Hong Kong’s famous clothing outlets. These are establishments that offer factory overruns, often-designer labels, at knockdown prices. “Some days, it seemed it was the men who were born to shop… the women were more interested in exploring off the beaten track,” she confided.
And shopping certainly remains on the agenda of most visitors to Hong Kong. The famous 24-hour Hong Kong suit has, however, been relegated to the history books. Quality is the hallmark now. And not just for men. Hong Kong’s army of tailors are adept at running up women’s clothing, or copying a favorite garment. Don’t skimp on time, though–- at least two, and preferably three, fittings are de rigueur for that fits-like-a-glove look and feel.
If you’re not sure what you want, most tailors have books of outfits for browsing. And if China-retro is your thing, visit Shanghai Tang – the famous department store also has a tailoring department.
The men who so surprised the World Bank guide had a point. Hong Kong’s factory outlets offer an Aladdin’s cave of unexpected couture. Shipments flow in from Hong Kong-owned factories in Mainland China. Some days it’s skirts; other days two-pieces, formal and casual. Sometimes it’s samples from a whole line of a single designer’s seasonal collection. The trick is never to rely on a single visit. The most aggressive dealers advertise in the local daily newspapers, and they’re often the ones who are the most popular with residents in the know.
At the less formal end of the scale, Hong Kong’s street markets are an all-time bargain. Residents in a hurry head off to the Ladies’ Market in Kowloon, which opens during the mornings. Here, stallholders specialize in bargain women’s clothing, although male garments can also be found. The emphasis is on sports apparel and casual wear. Nearly all stallholders have a tape measure tucked away, and shoppers should make use of it to check sizes (some labels are less than accurate).
That old cliché about Hong Kong being a shoppers’ paradise still holds true. Shopping guides abound, whether to Hollywood Road (antiques), Aberdeen (exotic Asian furnishing), factory outlets (everywhere) or electronics (a moveable feast). One tip: most stores will arrange shipping, so there’s no need to pull a muscle lugging it home.
But what doesn’t make the tourist guides are the little extras, those exquisite secrets that Hong Kong residents tend to hug to themselves. For example, a head and neck massage is a normal part of any trip to a Hong Kong hair salon. The city is similarly blessed with some of the world’s most highly skilled acupressurists and masseurs. Many are blind, and vocational schools are serious about securing the best possible training for visually impaired youngsters willing to study hard to acquire ancient skills. Their lack of sight is, however, no handicap when it comes to finding their way to home or hotel visits. And an hour under the thumbs (and often heels) of a well-trained masseuse can beat a bottle of vintage champagne for a relaxing afternoon.
For those seeking to flex some muscle, most of Hong Kong’s health clubs, and nearly all hotel gyms, will arrange temporary membership, and are well equipped. Hong Kong’s private gymnasiums often have reciprocal agreements with overseas gyms, but even if yours isn’t one of them, many are flexible and will offer an off-peak temporary membership.
For the hedonist in a hurry, foot massage is the latest rage in the Central business district. Popular with businesswomen on tight schedules, it’s advisable to avoid lunch-hour bookings. Others swear by colon cleansing. And yet others by Hong Kong’s latest oxygen bar, or an hour or two on ice-skate. Who says you have to live close to the Arctic Circle to learn a triple axel?
There is certainly no barrier to single-women travelers enjoying themselves and discovering the many attractions of Hong Kong, safely and conveniently.
Editor’s Note: There are several timeshare resorts available in Hong Kong, with exchange possibilities via RCI. To explore your options, visit the resort directory in RCI.
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Source: Hong Kong Tourist Board and InsideTheGate.com staff