Barbra Austin

Correspondent

  • Hong Kong, China, Asia

Barbra Austin is a Forbes Travel Guide Correspondent who is based in Hong Kong and covers the city for Forbes Travel Guide. A former pastry chef, she lived in New York City for many years before decamping for Paris, where she began writing about food. Now in Hong Kong, she is filling up on char siu and cheong fun but hasn’t tried snake soup just yet. She has written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Frommer’s and Zagat, among others.

  • On June 23, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is the best way to see Hong Kong in one day?

    Only in town for a day? Here’s what I would do:

    Get up early and go for congee, or HK-style French toast and a cup of silky sweet milk tea.

    Take the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak for panoramic views over the harbor, Kowloon, and the outlying islands.

    Make dim sum your midday meal. In Central, visit Lin Heung tea house for a trip back in time, or head to Maxim’s Palace City Hall, where the pork buns come with a harbor view.

    After lunch, take the MTR into Kowloon. Head to Mongkok for a slice of street life. Visit the extraordinary Goldfish Market, look for trinkets at the Jade Market.

    Work your way back toward the harbor: Visit the flamingos in Kowloon park, indulge in a little retail therapy in many malls of Tsim Sha Tsui, and consider going for tea at the Peninsula. Aim to take the famous Star Ferry back to the HK side around 8 p.m., when the skyline puts on an over-the-top light show.

    Go for some of the city’s best Cantonese food at Lung King Heen, in the Four Seasons, or Fu Sing in Wan Chai. Have a nightcap at Sevva, a rooftop bar nestled among some of HK’s most iconic buildings.
  • On June 21, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    When is the best time to visit Hong Kong?

    Without a doubt, late autumn is the most pleasant time of year to visit Hong Kong, with temperatures in the low 70s and (slight) relief from the high humidity that grips the city much of the year.

    Air-conditioned movie theaters notwithstanding, it never gets truly cold here (at least not by global standards -- Hong Kongers tend to bundle up at the slightest drop in the mercury). Still, January and February can be quite chilly and damp. Cooler temperatures persist through winter and early spring, but the humidity rises. If you visit during summer, be prepared to sweat, with temperatures averaging in the upper 80s through July and August, accompanied by high humidity. Oh, and be ready for rain: Typhoon season runs from May to November.

    For the most thorough and accurate weather information, including storm warnings and other advisories, visit the Hong Kong Observatory website (they even have a Twitter account).
  • On May 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best neighborhood restaurants in Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong has its share of destination restaurants, but it’s the no-frills, everyday kind of places that really form the fabric of the city. There are restaurants, cafés and noodle shops everywhere, in every neighborhood, filling up and emptying out with the rhythm of the day. And sometimes it's the most non-descript that attract the biggest crowds.

    I live in Sheung Wan, home to a number of trendy restaurants with plenty of buzz. But these are my favorite low-key local places:

    On the corner of Pound Lane and Tai Ping Shan Street, For Kee is known for their delicious, tender pork chops.

    I might not cross town to eat at Dim Sum Square, but then I don’t have to. They have a fried rice noodle roll filled with a steamed noodle roll that I crave, and the price is hard to beat.

    The tiny Il Moro attracts local creative types with solid, generous Italian cooking and an owner who loves to play host.

    Katong Laksa on Mercer  fits the bill when I have a hankering for its namesake noodle dish in spicy coconut broth.

    For a cake break, charming Café Loisl recreates the Vienna coffee house experience with treats like strudel, linzertorte, and plenty of whipped cream.
  • On May 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best clothing boutiques in Hong Kong?

    When in Hong Kong, do as the Hong Kongers do. Shop.

    For big names:

    Lane Crawford isn’t a boutique, but it is, hands down, Hong Kong’s most fashionable department store. (PS: If you really enjoy the thrill of the hunt, they have an outlet at Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau.)

    Smaller but perhaps more avant garde, Lane Crawford’s little sister Joyce has been on the forefront of fashion since 1971. Men’s and womenswear.

    Classic Chinese elements -- think Mandarin collars -- form the underpinnings of Shanghai Tang’s designs for both men and women, but the clothes here are utterly modern, and unquestionably chic.

    On a smaller scale:

    The iconic Hong Kong tailor experience is modernized at Moustache, which offers bespoke services and an eponymous line of menswear.

    Soho is filled with dress shops, but if you’re looking for something special, head to Beatriz da Silva for unique designs and personalized service, including custom fittings and alterations.
  • On May 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is Hong Kong’s cultural scene like?

    At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much going on in Hong Kong. There’s no marquee museum a la the Louvre or MOMA, for example.

    But the fact is Hong Kong has a vibrant and growing art scene on both local and international levels. There are galleries galore (including big international brokers like Gagosian), and Art Basel, the premier market event for contemporary art, just wrapped up its first Hong Kong fair.

    The Hong Kong Art Museum has a lovely collection of Chinese art, with an emphasis on regional work from Guangdong province. It frequently welcomes major touring exhibitions, as does the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

    For performing arts, plenty of stars grace HK’s stages during the Hong Kong Arts Festival, but programming the rest of the year feels a little sparse compared to other major cities. It’s there, but you have to know where to look for it.

    To find out what’s going on while your here, the best bet is to pick up one of the English language weeklies from a newsstand. The Hong Kong Tourism Board also maintains a useful calendar of cultural events.
  • On May 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    Where can I go watch sports in Hong Kong?

    Horse racing -- or perhaps the gambling that comes with it -- is Hong Kong's most popular spectator sport. Follow the crowds to the Happy Valley race track every Wednesday to place a few bets and soak up the excitement. Or take a trip to the bigger track at Sha Tin.

    If you're here in March, head to the HK Stadium in Causeway Bay for the Hong Kong 7s, a premier event on the world rugby calendar. (Though the real scrum happens in the stands and at the bars post-match.)

    In June, the Dragon Boat Carnival attract big crowds who come to watch elite crews from around the world to test their mettle on Victoria Harbor.

    Hong Kong also hosts a marathon every year, usually in February when it's cooler.

    If you prefer seats in an air-conditioned pub to a crowded arena, plenty of Soho bars air rugby and football, though rarely the American kind. The Globe has multiple screens (and great craft beer).
  • On May 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    Where are the best places to go dancing in Hong Kong?

    Walk through nightlife district Lan Kwai Fong any night of the week and you’ll be bombarded by thundering bass lines pouring out of every door. Here are some clubs to consider when you want to get your groove on:

    Bougis An outpost of the London original, the strict door policy at this Pottinger Street club keeps the crowd in check without putting a damper on the party inside. A-list DJs fill the docket.

    Dragon I Popular with visiting celebs and VIPs, this Lan Kwai Fong landmark is the longstanding place to see and be seen.

    Drop A tough door doesn’t deter a young and energetic crowd from cramming onto the dance floor here. Located in a basement on Hollywood Road.

    XXX Gallery Don’t be alarmed by the name. This arty, eclectic Sheung Wan club offers a wide mix of music and, oddly enough, is BYOB. (Note: They are in the midst of a relocation.)
  • On May 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best places for dim sum in Hong Kong?

    Don’t leave Hong Kong without going for dim sum. Composed mainly of small, steamed items -- pork buns, shrimp dumplings, rice noodle rolls, for example --  dim sum is traditionally more of a snack, meant to accompany tea, but it easily turns into a feast.

    Lin Heung They make few concessions to foreigners at this longstanding institution on Wellington, a loud and bustling tea house that feels untouched by time. For the best items, feel free to hover near the kitchen door to catch the pushcarts as they come out. Not for the timid, but lots of fun.

    Maxim's Palace City Hall Go early or be prepared to wait for a table in this massive room overlooking the harbor, a favorite with visitors on the weekend and workers from the surrounding buildings during the week. Service is by pushcart, and there is an English menu with pictures that is very helpful.

    Tim Ho Wan  The wait is sometimes longer a meal at this inexpensive, award-winning, wildly popular mini-chain, run by the former chef at the Four Seasons. Reward your patience with an extra order of the superb baked pork buns.

    Lung King Heen Speaking of the Four Seasons, you’d be wise to book well in advance for a midday meal here, featuring some of the most refined dumplings in the city.

    West Villa In the Lee Gardens complex in Causeway Bay, this solid address attracts a big family crowd on the weekends, so booking is recommended.

    Manor A personal favorite (and run by the same group as West Villa), this slightly hard-to-find spot in Causeway Bay does everything right, but is rarely crowded.
  • On May 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the five best free things to do in Hong Kong?

    Though high end shopping and dining options abound, there are plenty of ways to indulge in this city without spending a cent. Here are five of my favorites:

    Visit Victoria Peak The wok-shaped tower atop the Peak charges admission, but the views are plenty good from its base, and a walk along Lugard Road is definitely worthwhile.

    Take a hike Beyond Hong Kong’s concrete jungle is...actual jungle. On Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the outlying islands is an extensive park system crossed by well-maintained trails that are yours for the taking.

    Hit the museums Most of Hong Kong’s museums offer free admission every Wednesday.

    Stroll the markets Head to Mongkok to see the goldfish, bird, and flower markets. Or visit any of the wet markets for a closer look at HK’s food culture.

    Take in the lights Plan to be on the Kowloon waterfront at 8 p.m. for the nightly Symphony of Light, when Hong Kong’s skyline puts on a shimmering show.
  • On May 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best art galleries in Hong Kong?

    The art business is booming in Hong Kong. Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan is lined with galleries, good for an impromptu art walk. Or consider a trip east to Chai Wan, where artists are repurposing anonymous industrial spaces as interdisciplinary exhibition spaces.

    White Cube and Gagosian Both located in Central, these heavy hitters of the art world bring marquee names to Hong Kong.

    Sundaram Tagore Another international name, this gallery forges East-West connections through its exhibitions as well as “events that encourage spiritual, social and aesthetic dialogues.” On Hollywood Road, Central.

    Para/Site More than a gallery, this non-profit art space strives to put art into context with ambitious program of thought-provoking events and exhibitions. On Hollywood, in Sheung Wan.

    Hanart TZ Since 1983, this Pedder Street gallery has been a tireless champion of Chinese art on the world stage. They have an additional (and much larger) space, Hanart Square, further afield in Kwai Chung.
  • On May 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What festivals are going on in Hong Kong?

    Here’s what’s happening in Hong Kong this summer:

    Le French May runs through June 23 and celebrates all things Français with a series of gastronomic and cultural events and promotions at various venues. Pourquoi pas?

    Dragon Boat Festival (June 12) and Carnival (June 21-23) On June 12, paddlers hit the water at several locations for races and rituals, including the colorful “Gods Parade” at Tai O. Later in the month, international teams convene for a showdown on Victoria Harbor during the Dragon Boat Carnival, where the races get top billing, but beer drinking is almost as important.

    Chinese Opera Festival (June 19 - July 28) This series celebrates all the high drama, deep tradition, and technical rigor of this distinct regional art form. This year’s repertoire has a military theme, which will highlight the artists’ martial arts skills.

    International Arts Carnival (July 5 - August 11) Programmed for children, this series features theater, music, and dance troupes from around the world.
  • On May 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best family hotels in Hong Kong?

    If you’re bringing the whole brood to HK, consider one of these hotels:

    The Grand Hyatt has a 50 meter outdoor pool -- and a smaller one for kids -- that should keep everyone cool and happy at this harbor front oasis.

    Mandarin Oriental offers kids under twelve a special gift, and makes sure even the most finicky eaters are well-fed. The Family Affair package includes a cut rate on a second room, cookies on arrival, and late check-out.

    The Peninsula pampers wee ones with pint-sized slippers and robes, tot-friendly toiletries and other in-room amenities. On-site activities include cooking class and swimming lessons, and Kowloon Park, Star Ferry, and Space Museum are steps away.

    The Langham’s Family Vacation Wonderland package caters to the whole clan with large suite, club access, a welcome gift for kids, free DVD rental, and (maybe best of all) three hours of free babysitting.
  • On May 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What new museum exhibits are in Hong Kong?

    Here's where to get your cultural fix in Hong Kong right now:

    The Origin of Dao: New Dimensions in Contemporary Chinese Art (at the Hong Kong Art Museum until August 18, 2013) This carefully curated exhibit explores the current state of Chinese art, with an emphasis on ways that artists are incorporating traditional techniques into their work to create a contemporary Chinese vernacular.

    Intelligence Infinity: Inspiration Through Art (at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum until September 23, 2013) Designed for kids, this interactive, interdisciplinary exhibit puts the “art” in “smart” by using Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences as the basis of curation.

    Light Before Dawn: Unofficial Chinese Art 1975-1984 (at the Asia Society until 1 September 1, 2013) By refusing to make art that served the political aims of the Cultural Revolution, instead choosing to make art for art’s sake, the artists in this show risked their lives, and unknowingly set the stage for China’s explosion in the art world.

    The Cinematic Matrix of Golden Harvest (at Hong Kong Film Archive until July 14 2013) Film buffs should check out this retrospective of Golden Harvest, the influential studio whose early talent included Jackie Chan, John Woo, and Bruce Lee. Check the schedule for screenings (most of which are subtitled in English).
  • On May 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best souvenirs to buy in Hong Kong?

    Globalization is making souvenir shopping increasingly difficult, but it’s still possible to find something distinctly Hong Kong to take home with you.

    A custom made suit or cheongsam Hong Kong’s legendary tailors will have you outfitted in no time.

    A name seal Also called a “chop”, these are heavy stone stamps carved with the owner’s name at one end, which (historically) could function as a signature on important documents. Man Wa street in Sheung Wan is lined with seal makers, but before you go, you’ll need to choose a good Chinese translation of your name.

    G.O.D. - Goods of Desire This local design shop incorporates iconic Hong Kong themes and objects into a range of housewares, clothing, and accessories.

    Tea Jasmine, pu’er, oolong, green: Tea is fundamental to Hong Kong culture, and makes an excellent gift.

    Knickknacks The antique dealers on Cat Street peddle all kinds of kitsch, curios, and everyday objects such as chopsticks, caligraphy brushes, vintage postcards, and costume jewelry.
  • On May 16, 2013
    Catherine E. Toth is now following Barbra Austin