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 May 1, 2013
    Quia Querisma is now following Barbra Austin
  • On April 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best holiday events in Hong Kong?

    The answer to this question depends, of course, on which holiday you mean!

    The Mid-Autumn Festival, a harvest celebration, entails a week of lantern lighting, moon cake eating, and dragon dancing. Did I mention moon cakes?

    Hong Kong starts the western new year with a spectacular fireworks show over the harbor, and not long after that, rings in the Chinese new year with more pyrotechnics (though this is not the best time to visit, since many businesses close and airports are thronged).

    Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in grand fashion at the Po Lin monastery, which sits near the foot of the massive bronze Buddha statue on Lantau Island. It usually falls in May.

    The deity Tin Hau, goddess of the sea, is widely revered in Hong Kong, where many make their livelihood from the water. Her birthday is celebrated every year (in April or May) with a colorful parade of fishing boats in picturesque Sai Kung.

    July 1 marks the day (in 1997) when Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese control. It’s commemorated with -- you guessed it -- a massive fireworks display.
  • On April 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is the tipping etiquette in Hong Kong?

    At restaurants, a 10% service charge is almost always added to the total, and there’s no obligation to leave more (though word on the street is that this money doesn’t always make it to the server’s pocket). Some newer restaurants, especially western places, are forgoing the automatic charge, leaving it to the diner’s discretion. Be sure to check your bill.

    Tipping a taxi driver is neither obligatory nor expected, beyond perhaps leaving behind the 50 cents you may be owed in change. If the fare is a whole number, don’t feel bad about keeping all the change, unless the driver has really gone above and beyond the call of duty.

    At hotels, a little something -- HK $10-20 -- for the bellhop, valet, or room service staff is typical, and appreciated. Be sure to have some small bills for this purpose.

    For beauty and spa treatments, tips are generally expected. An extra HK$20-50 should do, depending on the complexity, quality, and cost of the service.
  • On April 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best kid-friendly restaurants in Hong Kong?

    With space for strollers, special menus, high chairs and even toy rooms, these addresses gladly cater to kids.

    Lung King Heen No need to leave the kids at home to enjoy some of HK's very best Cantonese cuisine; this elegant table in the Four Seasons offers menus for children of different ages that feature mild, comforting dishes in smaller portion sizes.

    Zuma How to make a decadent champagne and sushi brunch at this perennially trendy Japanese spot even more appealing for grownups? Include a massive playroom in the design, for their kids.

    Oolaa This roomy, open-all day Soho spot is often packed with families, especially on the weekends. (The Wan Chai branch is much smaller, so stick to the original on Bridges street.)

    BLT Burger When all else fails, consider bribery by milkshake.

    Top Deck Perched atop the famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen, this crowd pleaser has a play area for kids and a menu that should appeal to even the pickiest little palates.

    Din Tai Fung High chairs are available at this famous dumpling specialist, the aisles between tables are wide, and kids can watch the cooks in action through a window to the kitchen.
  • On April 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best luxury hotels in Hong Kong?

    Offering sybaritic comfort, endless amenities, in-house spa treatments, dining options, concierge services, any of these Forbes Star-rated properties is sure to please.

    The Mandarin Oriental This fortress of opulence has legions of loyalists who return again and again. It’s simply a classic.

    The Landmark Mandarin Oriental The newer member  of the HK Mandarin family has more contemporary flash and bling than its older sibling (and entry-level rooms are more spacious, too).

    The Four Seasons With a privileged harbor front location and every amenity imaginable,  the 4S has stayed on top of the heap since its 2005 opening.

    The Peninsula Arrive by helicopter at Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, and your feet don’t even have to touch the ground.

    The Upper House Service is so discreet here that it almost doesn’t feel like a hotel, and it’s easy enough to fantasize about living one of the spacious, modern suites while gazing out at the harbor from your limestone tub.
  • On April 28, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What restaurants have the best views in Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, hilly landscape, and vast harbor make for great views around every corner. Or up every elevator, more accurately. Take it all in from a table at one of these restaurants.

    Above and Beyond Airy views from the 28th floor and superb Cantonese cuisine await at this restaurant in TST’s Icon hotel. What’s in a name? A lot, in the case.

    Felix Though housed in one of HK’s oldest hotels, the food and Philippe Starck design are ultra modern at this contemporary European table on the 28th floor of the Peninsula.

    Lung King Heen One of the best Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong also comes with a commanding view over Victoria Harbor. Located in the Four Seasons.

    Hutong  Named for Beijing’s narrow, winding alleys, the cuisine at this trendy spot is northern Chinese. But the views will remind you that you are, in fact in Hong Kong.

    Café Gray Deluxe Gray Kunz of Lespinasse fame (remember Lespinasse?) is responsible for the contemporary comfort food at this restaurant in the Upper House hotel, nestled high among the towers of Admiralty.
  • On April 28, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best luxury hotels in Hong Kong?

    Offering sybaritic comfort, endless amenities, in-house spa treatments, dining options, concierge services, any of these Forbes Star-rated properties is sure to please.

    The Mandarin Oriental This fortress of opulence has legions of loyalists who return again and again. It’s simply a classic.

    The Landmark Mandarin Oriental The newer member  of the HK Mandarin family has more contemporary flash and bling than its older sibling (and entry-level rooms are more spacious, too).

    The Four Seasons With a privileged harbor front location and every amenity imaginable,  the 4S has stayed on top of the heap since its 2005 opening.

    The Peninsula Arrive by helicopter at Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, and your feet don’t even have to touch the ground.

    The Upper House Service is so discreet here that it almost doesn’t feel like a hotel, and it’s easy enough to fantasize about living one of the spacious, modern suites while gazing out at the harbor from your limestone tub.
  • On April 26, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best kids activities in Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong packs a surprising amount of kid appeal. Here are just a few things to do if you have little ones in tow:

    Take a steep ride up to Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram. At the summit, you’ll find family-friendly walks, a Madame Tussaud’s, and stellar views.

    Ride the iconic Star Ferry across the harbor, and watch the skyline do its luminous dance for the Symphony of Lights, every evening at 8 p.m.

    It’s not the Plaza, but your your little Eloise may very well enjoy high tea at the Mandarin Oriental or the Peninsula.

    Beat the heat with a visit to one of the beaches on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Most have changing facilities, equipment rental, lifeguards and (gulp) shark nets. I’m partial to Shek-O and Big Wave Bay.

    Take your bird-loving boys and girls to the aviary at Hong Kong Park, home to some 100 species of feathered friends.

    The Hong Kong Science Museum and the Hong Kong Space Museum are essentially built for kids, with plenty of interactive, hands-on exhibitions.

    For rollercoasters and dolphin shows, there's always Ocean Park.
  • On April 26, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    Where is the best nightlife in Hong Kong?

    Photo Courtesy of Lan Kwai Fong Association / Jetum Communication Looking for a party? Head to Lan Kwai Fong, a central district whose entire raison d’être is dining, drinking, and dancing (not necessarily in that order). Bars compete for customers with serious sound systems and trendy food, catering to a mostly ex-pat crowd looking to blow off a little steam. (Note that Lan Kwai Fong is the name of the specific street that forms the main drag, and also the name used for the whole neighborhood.)

    For a less frenzied feel, neighboring Soho has plenty of bars and restaurants with noise levels that actually permit regular conversation. Like Lan Kwai Fong, it’s an expat hub.

    Finally, there’s Wan Chai, a party destination that predates Soho and LKF by decades. A wide variety of bars can be found here, some quite slick, others downright seedy, since the area’s red light legacy is not entirely a thing of the past. You’ve been warned.
  • On April 25, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best free museums in Hong Kong?

    Most museums in Hong Kong charge admission, but a few are free. And several offer free entry on Wednesdays.

    Free all the time:

    Museum of Tea Ware Pop in here during a stroll through Hong Kong Park to learn more about the culture of tea drinking in China.

    The Sheung Yiu Folk Museum Explore rural 19th century life at this museum, which is built into the preserved remnants of a fortified Hakka villlage in Sai Kung. Who says there’s nothing old in Hong Kong?

    Free on Wednesdays:

    Hong Kong Museum of History Visit this institution for a comprehensive look at the region's geological, ecological, cultural and political past.

    Hong Kong Science Museum Interactive, hands-on exhibitions make this a good one for the kids.

    Hong Kong Museum of Art Big name touring exhibitions often stop here, but the real draw is the deep collection of Chinese fine art and antiquities.

    Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum Learn about Hong Kong’s role in the storied life of this seminal revolutionary figure, the father of modern China.
  • On April 25, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is the one must-do activity in Hong Kong?

    No visit to Hong Kong would be complete without a trip up Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island, known locally simply as “The Peak”.

    The most scenic way up is the tram, a steep funicular railroad in operation since 1888.  

    There is, naturally, a shopping mall at the top. But the best was to enjoy the Peak is to stay outdoors. Ascend to the Sky Terrace for a higher vantage point, and if you have kids in tow you might want to walk to the playground that’s up Austin road. If you have time, walk the circuit formed by Lugard and Harlech roads, for vistas that change at every turn. It takes about an hour at a leisurely pace.

    For a different way down, walk the steep, switch-backed trail that starts under the tower. It ends in the Mid-levels, not far from the escalator that will deliver you to Central.
  • On April 22, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What should I pack for a trip to Hong Kong?

    If you visit in late spring, summer, and early autumn, you’ll want to dress for heat and humidity. If you’re here for business, keep it formal, but for sightseeing, dress for comfort. Just save true beachwear for the beach. And note that, even in August, you’ll want a sweater, since the air conditioning is usually going full blast.

    Starting in late October, the humidity breaks and the temperature drops a few degrees (at last!). In the winter months, you’ll want a light jacket or coat. It’s not uncommon to see Hong Kongers in wool coats and sweaters on the coldest days in January and February, but keep in mind that cold is relative.

    A lightweight, compact umbrella may come in handy, and a raincoat isn’t a bad idea in spring and summer, though on the hottest days you may just want to rely on your brolly.

    HK is a style-conscious city, so if you plan on hitting the town at night you’ll want to look sharp.

    And if you forget something essential, don’t worry. Chances are good you can find it here.
  • On April 18, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    Where can you get the best view of Hong Kong?

    In daylight hours, head up to Victoria Peak for panoramic views over the north and south sides of Hong Kong Island, the outlying islands, and across the harbor to Kowloon and the hills beyond. For the highest vantage point, visit the Sky Terrace 428, the viewing platform atop the wok-shaped Peak Tower.

    After dark, a trip across the harbor on the Star Ferry affords a sweeping view of Hong Kong’s famous skyline.

    If you have more time on your hands (and don’t mind working up a sweat), hit one of Hong Kong’s many trails for something a little different. A trek up to Lion Rock will be rewarded with views down over the density of Kowloon, and further. And Dragon’s Back shows off HK’s quieter south side.

    For a decidedly more relaxed approach to collecting vistas, consider one of the city's rooftop bars.

    All of this comes with one caveat: The Hong Kong sky is sometimes heavy with haze that severely restricts visibility, even on sunny days.
  • On April 16, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is the best time to visit Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong is probably not where you want to spend your summer vacation, unless you enjoy extreme humidity and temperatures in the upper 80s, with the occasional typhoon thrown in for good measure.

    By far, the most pleasant time of year is November, when the skies clear, the humidity drops a little, and temperatures hover in the mid-70s.

    Winter can be chilly, if not exactly cold, but avoid visiting during Chinese New Year, when many local businesses close and the airports are thronged with travelers on their way to visit family. Spring has its share of nice days, though the humidity can get high, and rain and thunderstorms are more frequent.

    Whenever you visit, be sure to pay attention to any weather warnings. Heavy rain in Hong Kong doesn’t just mean wet feet; if it’s bad enough, compulsory suspensions of business and transport will be implemented until the storm passes.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is the hottest nightclub in Hong Kong?

    Most clubs in Hong Kong are in Lan Kwai Fong, a thriving nightlife area in Central. If you’re all dressed up, you definitely have someplace to go.

    Dragon I Since 2001, Dragon I has been the unofficial headquarters of Hong Kong’s beautiful people and a favorite with visiting celebs. The crowd is fine feathered, and so is the decor: Caged white birds are a design element here (in spite of Peta’s best efforts).

    Bougis This recently opened outpost of the London original is members only, so you either need to join or know someone who knows someone who can put you on the list. It’s not huge, but that’s part of the draw, as is the serious music lineup.

    Volar It’s all about the music at Volar, where partiers pack the dance floor to move to beats by internationally known DJs, and drink in a lounge decorated with carousel horses.