Hong Kong still the bargain capital

Colorful silk robesHONG KONG — The last time I was in Hong Kong, Queen Elizabeth II was depicted on its stamps and currency. It was pre-1997 Handover and shopping was more than an option, it seemed a mandate. But the last time I was in Hong Kong, my quest to hit the aisles and shop till I dropped proved confusing, overwhelming and exhausting.

Thus, upon return I vowed a new approach and devised a methodical plan that had nothing to do with the forfeiture of the ‘sport’ (not in this lifetime) but everything to do with its enhancement.

First step was to select my base of operations: InterContinental Hong Kong (the hotel group’s Asia-Pacific flagship property). Situated over the harbor, flanking the Avenue of the Stars walkway and known for its premium Hong Kong Island view (seats in its window-lined Lobby Lounge for the nightly laser show are among the city’s hot-tickets) — the hotel’s location is legendary.

But my decision was influenced not by its setting (though the InterContinental is only blocks from Nathan Road’s “golden mile of shopping”), but rather its savvy shopping knowledge.

A visit with chief concierge Louis Baleros was mandatory. His reputation is renowned (he’s even been known to create guests’ shopping itineraries before arrival).

“Where do locals shop? Where do you go for good quality and the best deals?” I quizzed the all-knowing insider.

As if on cue, Baleros began sharing business cards: name-brand eyewear, New Fei Optical Supply (64 Tong Mi Rd.); pearls, Rio Pearl Wholesaler (39 Mody Rd.); designer-like handbags, Ashneil (5-6 Middle Rd.) — noting the location of each on a map, my soon-to-be Bible.

“What about a tailor?” I implored, knowing the days of the 24-hour turnaround are no more, but that garments are still replicated from simple photos. Baron Kay’s Tailor (43 Mody Rd.) was the answer. His clientele included Nicholas Cage, and the price was right (about half of the cost at home).

store signsBaleros shared negotiating tips: “Bargain at the markets. Offer half of the initial quote. You’ll probably pay around 70%. Unless dealing with a department store or upscale boutique, ask for their best price. Or if buying more than one item, request a discount. Visit stores that advertise ‘removal sale’ (translation: good sale).”

Stanley MarketBefore departing the hotel, I visited three shops known as much for their distinctive flair as for their appeal to different-size pocketbooks.

Called the “Armani of Hong Kong,” Shanghai Tang (several locations) featured Asian-inspired home furnishings (set of silver-plated chopsticks, $170, all figures U.S.) and high-style clothing (high-end prices).

Jewelry, clothing and silk pillows were exclusively designed for X quisit. Its best seller was a Mandarin collared “coin jacket,” with Chinese money pieces doubling as buttons ($232).

Kenki (several locations) was discovered from a local’s tip. Best buys included embroidered silk slippers ($10) and reversible silk-and-velvet jackets ($36).

The city’s ultimate bargain, the 25-cent Star Ferry transit, delivered me to the Central District, where I bypassed the Landmark shopping complex for the Pedder Building (12 Pedder St.) and its five floors of stores (many of them outlets). Not-to-be-missed was Blanc de Chine (for Shanghai Tang-quality Chinese clothing) and Exhibition Top Cashmere.

But Hong Kong shopping would be incomplete without visits to the markets and the peeks they offer into the lives of the locals. The double-decker bus ride to Stanley Market was half the fun (tip: sit on the second level). Market items can be inexpensive but the quality may be questionable, and most vendors don’t bargain.

Ladies’ Market sold shoes, accessories and clothing (men’s and children’s too) in a highly-concentrated, somewhat claustrophobic area (tip: start at Argyle St. for the best quality). Best buy: Puma tennis shoes ($10).

Jade Market was packed with jade, pearls and other stones. But unless one can distinguish the real thing from imitation, it’s best not to make an investment purchase. Directed by a local to trusted favorites, husband-and-wife vendors, Charles and Candy (stalls 383, 403, 407), I made my final and favorite purchase: amethyst necklace ($30), spotted in X quisit ($200).

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