Hong Kong, a.k.a. treasure island

Times Staff Writer

THE photos hanging on the wall at Shanghai Tang show familiar faces: Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie, Keanu Reeves, Kate Moss, Jodie Foster. Each is wearing a Chinese jacket or cheongsam -- dress -- from the Hong Kong store. Similar dresses and jackets, many priced at well over $1,000, line the racks. The store is full of browsers and buyers.

Welcome to Hong Kong, where the A-list does its luxury shopping.

Ranking alongside New York, London and Tokyo as one of the world's economic giants, Hong Kong pushes the envelope on design, architecture and obsessive consumerism. It's a traveler's Xanadu, an exotic port of call with superb hotels, exceptional restaurants and flashy nightlife.

And, of course, world-class shopping: If you can't find what you want, you probably can have it made in 24 hours.

"I love it," said NBC4 news anchor Chuck Henry, who has visited several times. "It's fun, compact, one of the world's great cities." When he can't shop here in person, he gets in touch with a tailor who has his sizes on file.

Nearly a decade has elapsed since the British handover of Hong Kong to China -- a development that residents and visitors alike feared. The territory, an East-West trading center since the mid-19th century, prospered during Britain's 156-year rule. There was apprehension it would regress when the Chinese took over.

Instead, commerce has skyrocketed, along with the gleaming skyline.

Multistory malls have sprung up, their ubermodern spaces crammed with designer shops. The latest additions in the Central District -- the international business center -- are Harvey Nichols, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, which join veterans Chanel, Cartier, Prada, Fendi and Dior.

Although high-end shopping is a driving force in Hong Kong, the region's traditional low-end markets continue to draw tourists. Silk ties still cost $1 at Stanley Market; T-shirts and knockoff designer purses fill the aisles at Kowloon's Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market.

At the other end of the spectrum, shoppers looking for museum-quality antiques, Chinese furniture, paintings and religious icons can still find them in the tiny storefronts along twisting Hollywood Road.

Although prices on designer and brand-name clothing seem similar to those in the U.S., there's no sales tax and the selection is vast. The best times to find deals are during the annual Shopping Festival, late June through August, and Winterfest, which begins in late November and ends Jan. 1. Markdowns of up to 70% can be found. Sales also take place on the four days before Chinese New Year (Feb. 18 in 2007).

"Everyone should visit then," said Hong Kong shopping guru and guide Wing Lau.

"I tell my clients to shop first and then see the New Year's celebration. Prices are very low, and the parade and fireworks are spectacular."

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The malls

Hong Kong is proud of its many malls, but visitors may want to limit themselves to visiting only a couple; many feature the same designers.

Note: To call any of the numbers listed below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 852 (code for Hong Kong) and the local number.

Landmark: This Central District center (1 Pedder St., Central) features some of the biggest names in fashion and recently added Harvey Nichols to its tenant list. Stop for high tea at the cafe Landmark while you're there and check out the other patrons. It's said to be a popular stop for American celebs. While in the neighborhood, visit adjoining Prince's Building and Chater House to get your fill of high-end designers and the Pedder Building for outlet shops. (www.centralhk.com.)

Harbour City: It's easy to get lost in this mall, which has more than 700 shops in four zones. Cruise ships stopping in Hong Kong often deposit passengers here for a day of shopping. Most major brands are represented, but clothing in many stores runs too small for many Westerners. (3 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon; www.harbourcity.com.hk.)

IFC: New high-rise mall in Hong Kong's tallest building, the 88-story International Finance Center. High-fashion boutique shops, plus the territory's first Four Seasons Hotel and an Airport Express terminal downstairs. (1 Harbour View St., Central; www.ifc.com.hk.)

Festival Walk: Gleaming multistory mall in the center of Kowloon; features midlevel designers and, like malls in the United States, has a multiscreen movie theater and an ice rink. (80 Tar Chee Ave., Kowloon Tong; www.festivalwalk.com.hk.)

Clothing and department stores

Custom-tailored clothing has long been a mainstay in Hong Kong and tourists don't have to look far to find shops where the proprietor will promise you a new suit or a jacket almost overnight. Check with your hotel concierge for recommendations; some have tailor services available in their shopping arcades.

Otherwise, shop around, comparing prices and fabrics. The turnaround is usually 48 hours and should include two fittings.

Shanghai Tang: Founded in 1994 by Hong Kong businessman David Tang, this high-end clothing store features updated versions of traditional Chinese designs. It has locations in Singapore and London and offers an expanding line of home furnishings, accessories and gift items. The flagship store is in the historic Pedder Building in Central Hong Kong; other shops are in the Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon, and Hong Kong International Airport. In the U.S., Shanghai Tang stores can be found in Honolulu and New York. (12 Pedder St., 2525-7333; www.shanghaitang.com.)

Lane Crawford: Shoppers find many familiar brands at this upscale women's clothing store, sometimes called the Saks of Hong Kong. The shop, which advertises that it is the territory's largest specialty fashion store, also carries furnishings, menswear, jewelry and accessories. Four mall locations, including a sleek 82,000-square-foot department store in the IFC mall that takes up one level and is made up of a series of nicely designed galleries. Prices are similar to those in the U.S. (Podium 3, IFC Mall; 2118-3388, www.lanecrawford.com.)

SOGO: Twelve-story, well-organized Japanese department store targets the high-end market, selling clothing, toys, electronics and Japanese food. Large variety, amazing selection; SOGO prides itself on being a one-stop shop where customers can find anything they want. (555 Hennessey Road, Causeway Bay; 2833-8338; and 12 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, 3556-1212; www.sogo.com.hk.)

Marks & Spencer: This British clothing and food retailer, with outlets around the world, has several branches in Hong Kong. It's a good place to pick up basics (for locations, see www2.marksandspencer.com/stores.)

Decor

Chinese arts & crafts: Wide selection of nicely made Chinese clothing, home furnishings, including rosewood and blackwood furniture, jewelry, accessories and porcelain. Fun to browse, fun to buy. Several locations. (I visited Shop 220, Phase 2, the Mall, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway; 2839-1188, www.crcretail.com.)

G.O.D. (Goods of Desire): This unusual Hollywood Road store offers an eclectic selection of housewares, apparel and accessories that mix traditional Chinese design with modern elements. Fun products; many items are created by in-house designers. Three other Hong Kong outlets. (I visited 48 Hollywood Road, 2805-1876, www.god.com.hk.)

Chine Gallery: Classic Chinese designs in fine antique furniture and rugs. The store's customers include international dealers, museums, interior designers and collectors. (42A Hollywood Road, 2543-0023, www.chinegallery.com.

Indigo Expressive Living: Innovative furniture and home furnishings shop prides itself on its unusual, sometimes funky products. For Christmas, the store was selling lime, tangerine and shocking pink monks and buddhas "just in time for the coming season." (Showroom at 6/F Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing St., Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong. Other locations in Prince's Building in the Central District, which I visited, and at Repulse Bay; 2552-0545, www.indigo-living.com.)

Arch Angel Antiques: Three floors of antiques, including furniture, porcelain, tomb decorations and odds and ends at this Hollywood Road store that is fun to peruse. 53 Hollywood Road, 2851-6828.

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Markets

You might not be interested in buying T-shirts, jeans or knockoff purses from a sidewalk vendor, but visit Hong Kong's open-air street markets anyway -- they're among the territory's liveliest spectacles. The region is renowned for them and the color and excitement shouldn't be missed. Be sure to bargain with vendors before buying.

Ladies Market: This daylong Kowloon Peninsula market gives visitors a good look at the colorful streets and alleys of urban Hong Kong. Among the sale items are clothing for men, women and children, wigs, cosmetics, toys, small electronics and watches. (Tung Choi Street, noon to 11:30 p.m. daily.)

Stanley Market: Most tours include the Stanley Market on Hong Kong Island on their itinerary; consequently, the streets surrounding it usually are packed with sightseeing buses. And you'll be shopping shoulder to shoulder with other tourists. Souvenirs, Chinese artwork, inexpensive silk ties and silk garments are good buys. (Market Road, Stanley, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.)

Temple Street Night Market: The Night Market opens at 4 p.m. but really gets rolling after dark, with stalls selling clothing, souvenirs, watches, bric-a-brac and leather wear. The selection doesn't seem as good as at the other markets, but there are other attractions, such as fortunetellers and occasionally, Cantonese opera singers. (Temple Street is in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon.)

Flower Market: This sensual treat offers a jungle of good luck in the form of houseplants and beauty in the form of exotic blossoms. (Flower Market Road, Mong Kok, Kowloon; open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.)

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Buyers' market

GETTING THERE:

From LAX, Cathay Pacific has nonstop flights to Hong Kong. Northwest has direct service (stop, no change of plane). United, Asiana, China Eastern, ANA, Korean, Air China, China Southern, China Airlines and JAL have connecting flights (change of plane). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $1,800 until Jan. 1, dropping to $983 until May 15.

TELEPHONES:

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 852 (code for Hong Kong) and the local number.

WHERE TO STAY:

InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, 70 Mody Road, Tsimshatsui East, Kowloon; 2721-5161, www.hongkong.intercontinental.com. The two InterContinentals in Kowloon offer the chain's usual high standard of service. But the Grand Stanford doesn't have an attached mall with chi-chi shops, nor does it have the same views of Victoria Harbor, so it's less expensive. Doubles from $185.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong; 2522-0111, www.mandarinoriental.com. This '60s-era hotel, a landmark in the heart of the central business district, just reopened after a renovation. Large, luxurious rooms. They're just steps away from Hong Kong's top designer stores. Doubles from about $450.

Salisbury YMCA of Hong Kong, 41 Salisbury Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon; 2268-7888, www.ymcahk.org.hk. Shopaholics should appreciate this gem in Kowloon, which will help them save money so they can shop more. It has clean and tidy rooms with TV, broadband Internet, refrigerator and free tea or coffee. Doubles from $135.

WHERE TO EAT:

The Peninsula Hong Kong, Salisbury Road; 2920-2888, www.peninsula.com. Join businessmen, tourists and purple-haired rockers for traditional high tea in the lovely lobby of this venerable hotel. Afternoon tea for two about $55, including service charge.

Maxim's Palace, City Hall, Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong Island; 2526-9931, www.maxims.com.hk. This noisy, lively restaurant is on the second floor of the City Hall building in Central Hong Kong's business district. Its dim sum is said to be some of the best in the district, but the downside is that its popularity means you may have to wait in line. Open daily for lunch. Items start at about $2.50.

Cafe Deco, 118 Peak Galleria, Peak Road, Hong Kong Island; 2849-5111, www.cafedecogroup.com. This two-level restaurant features some of the best views in the territory from the top of Victoria Peak. Variety of foods, including pizza, sandwiches, noodles, Indian tandoori specialties. Dinner entrees about $20.

TO LEARN MORE:

Hong Kong Tourism Board, (310) 208-4582, for brochures (800) 282-4582, www.discoverhongkong.com.

-- Rosemary McClure

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