Barbra Austin


  • 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 March 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best technology hotels in Hong Kong?

    These Hong Kong hotels know that free WIFI is no longer enough to satisfy savvy travelers.

    The ICON is connected to the hilt, and their iGuest app puts hotel services at your fingertips. Web enabled screens in the bathroom mirror mean you never have to be offline.

    At The Mira, laundry, limo, and other concierge services comes at the touch of a screen; room phones can go mobile; and the “infotainment” -- TV, Internet, music -- is all wirelessly controlled.

    From check in to check out, everything is wireless and paperless at The Upper House, a small luxury hotel with big, big rooms and streamlined service.

    The business traveler is the Grand Hyatt’s bread and butter, so efficiency and connectivity are top priorities here.

    The W Hotel has an app that allows you to order room service or stream music from your own device. A high tech business center helps you get your work done.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best fine jewelry stores in Hong Kong?

    The bling can blind in this city. Local chains Chow Tai Fook and Larry are everywhere, and you’ll see familiar international brands like Tiffany and Cartier, too. But for something a little more special, try one of these boutiques:

    Edward Chiu creates showstopping pieces in jade -- black, white, red, lavender, and green -- trimmed with diamonds and rubies and pearls (oh my). Located in the IFC mall.

    For more than 50 years, K.S. Sze & Sons, in the Prince's Buildling, has served a demanding and loyal local clientele. The boutique in the Prince’s Building displays a fine collection of diamonds, gemstones, and jade. Custom design and refurbishment services are also available.

    Qeelin’s designs incorporate traditional Chinese elements, but the results are utterly contemporary, and opulent. A lion’s head becomes a swinging pendant, draped with diamonds; a longevity lock is rimmed with rubies.

    Ronald Abram is known for colored gemstones, but the his diamonds are stunners, too, and he also sells a collection of vintage art deco pieces. Two small boutiques (in the Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula hotels) offer discreet service.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What new dance shows are in Hong Kong?

    Dance lovers visiting Hong Kong should check in with these organizations to see what’s on:

    Hong Kong Dance Company Established in 1981 specifically to promote Chinese dance, this troupe’s repertoire combines modern aesthetics with traditional storytelling. Performances are staged at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and other venues.

    City Contemporary Dance Company HK’s first modern group has been presenting a program of original works, both short and full-length, since 1979, to widespread critical acclaim.

    Hong Kong Ballet This company’s calendar includes classics like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, along with contemporary pieces and newly commissioned works, as well. Performances are at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

    Hong Kong Arts Festival Every February and March, this multi-venue event brings in a diverse range of dance companies from all over the world. The most recent festival welcomed the American Ballet Theater, Momix Dance Theater, and the Asia Pacific Dance Platform.
  • On March 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is nightlife like in Hong Kong?

    The lively, varied bar scene in Hong Kong offers something for almost everyone.

    Lan Kwai Fong is Hong Kong’s best known nightlife district, where big crowds (of mostly expats) and thumping beats spill out of the bars and trendy restaurants. Some clubs are hyper-exclusive, others are more democratic, and many internationally known DJs do runs here (check TimeOut or HK Magazine for listings).

    Neighboring Soho has plenty of bars and pubs, too, which have a generally more casual feel than the clubs of LKF.

    Wan Chai is another main area for nightlife, but note that the area’s history as the red light district is not entirely a thing of the past.

    For something more subdued, Hong Kong has fantastic hotel bars and a growing number of specialists that take mixology very seriously. There are dive bars, too, down alleys and small side streets. Keep in mind that not all bars are at street level; the high rises of Causeway Bay, for example, house countless boites (some licensed, some not).
  • On March 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best business hotels in Hong Kong?

    Business travelers are well taken care of in Hong Kong. All of these hotels offer business services, connectivity, meeting facilities, and plenty of comfort if you have any down time.

    The Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai is actually attached to the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center, so you may not have to leave the building to get where you need to be.

    There’s nothing the Four Seasons doesn’t do well, and is centrally located at one of the city’s transportation hubs, convenient to the airport, MTR, and cross-harbor ferries.

    Hotel East is not so central, but that’s the point: if your business is in Quarry Bay or Tai Koo, this is the place to be.

    On the Kowloon side, the Hyatt Regency in Tsim Sha Tsui is a reliable choice, and for something high tech and high style, consider the ICON, where a club-level room gives you access to a range of complimentary business, dining, and concierge services.
  • On March 28, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best stores for designer clothes in Hong Kong?

    It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Shopping is one of Hong Kong’s favorite past times. Here are some of the best places to go for designer duds:

    For the latest Lanvin or must-have McQueen, it’s hard to beat Lane Crawford, Hong Kong’s oldest department store, which offers curated collections from the most coveted labels, all artfully displayed. The Tsim Sha Tsui location is the largest (the Shoe Library occupies an entire floor), though I prefer the IFC branch, and there’s one at Times Square as well.

    With four locations around Hong Kong, Joyce has been a mainstay for high fashion fiends since 1971. It’s run by Lane Crawford, actually, as is LAB Concept, in Admiralty, which caters to a younger, trendier shopper (think 3.1 Phillip Lim, Elizabeth & James).

    As for Hong Kong’s many malls and shopping centers, The Landmark is particularly good for top European labels. And if you can handle the crowds, the sprawling Harbour City has...well, almost everything.
  • On March 28, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best hotels in Hong Kong?

    Anticipating service, endless amenities, and fantastic views distinguish HK’s best hotels.

    When the Mandarin Oriental opened 50 years ago, it was the tallest building in Hong Kong. The skyline has changed just a tad since then, but the Mandarin is still the Mandarin. Renovated in 2007, it nevertheless retains a sense of retro glamour.

    The shoreline has changed almost as much as the skyline: Before the waterfront was extended, the MO was directly on the harbor. Now the Four Seasons, in the IFC complex, has the prime front row spot, a position best appreciated from the sixth floor infinity pool, or the floor-to-ceiling windows of your harbor view room.

    For old fashioned luxury with every modern convenience, check-in to the 85-year-old Peninsula, a colonial fortress facing the harbor on the Kowloon side. When it was built it faced the ocean liner terminal; now guests can arrive by helicopter.

    At the Upper House, spacious, Japanese-inspired interiors inspire calm, and the views -- the rooms start on the 38th floor -- may induce dizziness. Discreet service is felt but hardly seen.
  • On March 27, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best restaurants for a business lunch in Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong’s top tables help you make the most of a working lunch with set menus, private rooms, and discreet service. Even if your meal is all business, lunching at one of these restaurants is always a pleasure.

    For contemporary glamour and and hyper-modern French cuisine, try Amber, in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

    The truffles and super Tuscans are sure to impress at Otto e Mezzo, which offers two, A/V-equipped private rooms that seat up to twelve people. It’s power dining, Italian style.

    If your business is in Wan Chai, consider pan-European player The Principal. Tables in the airy, modern dining room are well-spaced, and two private rooms are available for bigger meetings.

    The Four Seasons has two good options for a business lunch: Make the deal over dim sum at Lung King Heen, or stick with classic French at Caprice.

    On the Kowloon side, T’ang Court, in the Langham Hotel, gets high marks for superb Cantonese cooking and a plush, quiet room that’s conducive to conversation.
  • On March 27, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best tours of Hong Kong?

    It’s easy enough to get around Hong Kong on your own, but why not let yourself be led by an expert? These professionals will help you make the most of your visit.

    Little Adventures in Hong Kong specializes in food but offers cultural tours as well, along with concierge services and immersion programs for executives and expats. Led by established journalists and other local experts, all tours are private, and tailored to your specific desires and needs.

    Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours are exactly that: Sample-heavy strolls through Sheung Wan that will leave you full of char siu, egg tarts, and tea. Maximum group size is 12, with private options available, too.

    Walk Hong Kong offers guided hikes and birdwatching walks that will show you the greener side of HK, as well as a range of cultural and historical tours, including some that delve into WWII Hong Kong. Private and group options are available.
  • On March 26, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What language is spoken in Hong Kong?

    Cantonese is Hong Kong’s first language, but English is an official language as well, and widely spoken, due to HK’s British history and its standing as an international business capital. Though not official, Mandarin is heard more and more, thanks to large numbers of visitors from mainland China, and Beijing’s increasing influence since 1997, when Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese control.

    Beyond that, Hong Kong is a diverse city with a multicultural population. You’ll hear German, lots of French (this is one of the fastest growing groups in HK), Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Indonesian...The list goes on.

    It’s rare to find yourself in a situation where absolutely no English is spoken, but it does happen occasionally, especially as you get further into Kowloon and the New Territories. Still, English is pervasive enough that Cantonese skills really aren’t necessary to get by here in Hong Kong.
  • On March 26, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are some things to know before visiting Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong is a global financial capital, a dynamic, modern city with a high standard of living. Cantonese is the main language, but English is also an official language, and widely spoken.

    Though part of China, Hong Kong is designated a Special Administrative Region, with its own laws, political system, and currency. It was a British territory until 1997, when the “handover” occurred, which placed Hong Kong back under Chinese control.

    Most visitors, including Americans, do not require a visa to enter Hong Kong, but travelers from some countries do. Check the requirements before your trip. Note that entry to mainland China is governed by completely different rules.

    Summers are extremely hot and humid, and Typhoons and heavy rainstorms may occur, so pay attention to any weather warnings issued. Autumn is sunnier, less humid, and generally pleasant; winter highs hover around 60°F; and starting in late March the temperature, humidity, and rainfall start to increase again.

    And Leanne is right: Even if you visit in summer, bring a sweater. HK loves air conditioning.
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