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June 25, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Hong Kong

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Greetings from Hong Kong! Last week, we checked out the history of Hong Kong, the transportation and a couple of fine hotels including the world famous Peninsula. This week, we wrap things up with Hong Kong's fabulous restaurants, markets, massage parlours and major attractions including Victoria Peak and the Big Buddha. If you want to see why this city is so incredible and why I would consider living here, then grab your walking shoes and join me as we explore. If you don't have time, check out this four-minute Johnny Jet video of Hong Kong. Also this week, join Juliet Pennington as she tours us around the idyllic island of St. Lucia or Tom Calicchio as he lives it up in South Beach in the Versace mansion. Plus, if you're a member of an airline's mileage program, the folks at Smarter Travel say the worst is yet to come. Find out why here.

The first thing I wanted to do when we arrived in Hong Kong was go up to the top of Victoria Peak. The view from up there is absolutely magnificent and it's one of the things I remembered most from my month-long trip back in 1993. Shortly after I left, I heard that the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world (according to Guinness World Records) had been installed in the mid-levels (the area where I had stayed and where many ex-pats live). I wasn't quite sure how they operated and if they traveled all the way to the top of the peak. There are 20 escalators and three moving sidewalks that total 800 meters that go from the mid-levels to Central, which takes 20 minutes. They're free and the escalator runs daily downhill from 6am to 10am and uphill from 10:30am to midnight.

The best way to get to the top of the peak (552 meters = 1,810 ft) is obviously not by escalator but rather by the Peak Tram, a funicular railway. It's been around since 1888 and though it's quite steep at times, it's not scary at all, even if you're afraid of heights like me. TIP: Get on the right side of the tram, that has three seats for the best view; the two-seaters on the left don't have much of a view. There are two trams that operate every five to 10 minutes when it's busy from Central and it costs HK$22 ($3 USD) for a one-way ticket, HK$33 R/T ($4 USD), or HK$48 ($6 USD) that includes R/T and admission to the Sky Terrace. Huh? I had no idea what the Sky Terrace was so I passed but when I reached the top I realized I should have gotten the package deal rather than paying the HK$20 ($2.50 USD) admission. At first, I felt like the people who control the peak had sold out BIG Time. It's completely different from what I remember. Instead of just a charming lookout point with a restaurant and wonderful hiking/walking trails, there are two huge shopping centers. Packed with so many tourists you can't walk at a steady pace.

The main attraction is the Sky Terrace and it requires at least six legs of escalators. They're not right next to one another so you have to walk around the stores to get to the next. As if that's not bad enough, there's a Burger King and a Bubba Gump and the windows have huge transparent stickers on them so you can't get a free view. The modern building is kind of cool, I guess and it's a smart business move so I suppose it's commercialism at its best.

The lines for the tram are long both coming and going. Both times I took it, I waited at least 25 minutes (a taxi costs HK$46 =$ 6 USD and took 15 minutes), so allow enough time to make any dinner reservations. You really should see the view from the peak both during the day and night. The latter is my favorite and for a real treat, book a corner table at Pearl on the Peak (website). They have floor-to-ceiling glass walls and the innovative modern restaurant serves international cuisine. It's run by an Australian, which explains why kangaroo and bay bugs are on the menu.

The best part about the peak is still the hiking and walking trails, which of course offer free views. Afterwards, when you're all hot and sweaty, which you're sure to be, have lunch at the Peak Lookout Restaurant (website). The building has been there since 1901 but it opened as a restaurant in 1947. Natalie and I sat on the outside patio and ordered from the extensive menu, which offers all kinds of food from hamburgers and nachos to seafood. I had chicken tikka for HK$185 ($23 USD) and a Sprite HK$40 ($5 USD), which was expensive but you have to remember you're paying for the spectacular setting.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Hong Kong Skyline

Mid-Levels Escalator


It's Free


Taxi Up The Peak


Peak Tram


Peak Shopping Center


Sky Terrace


What A View


Peak At Night


Peak Lookout Restaurant


Peak Walking Trails



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