So it turns out that I love Hong Kong. In fact, I love it so much I’m considering moving there. This vibrant city located on Hong Kong island is a mesh of things to do and see, taste and try.
Previously a British outpost, the city is littered with reminders of the former rule and its history is apparent in several aspects of HK daily life. Staying in Mid Levels, I was overwhelmed by the bustling streets, futuristic sense of travelling by escalator and travelator taking me up and down the city centre. Whether you are looking high or low, Hong Kong is constantly on the move, moving forward that is; featuring great restaurants, shops, art galleries, museums, temples, long and thin sky scrapers all set against Victoria peak leading down to the sea.
What makes HK, as it’s often abbreviated to, stand out is its undeniable character. From the moment you arrive at the airport, you are whisked into serious 21st century mode. Straight off the plane, the arrivals gates are a 30 second walk to the MTR, a cyber-friendly train service that delivers you immediately into the centre of town.
I was travelling on holiday with my sister with the aim of exploring this unfamiliar territory, visiting family and naturally timing it oh- so- well with my pre-quarter life crises. which happened to fall on the notorious Hong Kong Rugby 7s. What a week we had in store.
Aside from shopping, there is a hell of a lot to do in Hong Kong for both adventurers, foodies, history buffs and sports fans. Day trips to neighbouring Macau and China’s mainland, Kowloon-side, are easy to organise and the ferry ride’s are cheap, comfortable and most importantly regular.
Trek up the Dragon’s Back to Shek O
If you’re a fan of walking and hiking, Hong Kong has plenty to offer and indeed we spent a lot of the time exploring the city and island by foot.
Taking the road round towards Tam Tam, there is a windy trail named ‘The Dragon’s Back,’ a 40 minute walk with at times a steep incline up to the top of the hills which offers fabulous views of the south part of the island, or so I’m told. We enjoyed the walk but couldn’t see a damn thing, this was unfortunately the case with every walk we did but after a few nights of partying in Wanchai and Lang Kwait Fung (LKF) it was a nice way of reaching out into nature and taking in some fresh air.
If you follow the walk this way, you end up in a small beachside town named Shek O. The beach there is lovely, with a few cafes and shops dotted around to grab a refreshing cocktail in.
Stanley Market and The Smuggler’s Inn
A bit of an institution, Stanley Market is like the Hong Kong version of Camden, only on a slightly smaller scale and naturally on the beach front. Easy enough to get to, we hopped on a bus from Shek O and meandered around the island’s southern coast. You can pick up all sorts of tat, silk clothes, Chinese dressing gowns, bags and purses – I was particularly pleased that there was a lot of art on sale. Lots of local artists feature and oil prints are sold at relatively cheap prices.
Worth a mention, The Smuggler’s Inn is a bit of an institution. Run by a friendly pair of English and Chinese staff, the pub has an English familiar feel and it’s a worth a quick pop in just to check out the currency-covered walls and enjoy the view with a cold bev. Located right on the harbour front, it’s impossible to miss – the first pub after Stanley market and always full with lively folk looking for a good time and better chat.
Aberdeen and The Floating Restaurant
Whilst I’m all for forging your own journey and exploring places off the beaten track – sometimes you just gotta do the tourist thing. Aberdeen is certainly that, taking the bus through the Aberdeen tunnels to the harbour, again on the south side – is like entering a new world. Less cosmopolitan, more Chinese, dirtier, grittier and yet still charming – Aberdeen is the home of the iconic floating restaurant. Barter for a good deal – I paid about HK$ 60 for a sampan to take me around the harbour. With the mist down, the jungle of old boats, junks, boat houses and cargo ships is rather eery and every time you turn a corner, you catch a glimpse of somebody else’s daily life aboard a sea vessel. The floating restaurant is rather remarkable. I didn’t eat there – not a fan of tourist prices and I was happy enough with the dinner plans I had for later.
About an hour’s ferry ride away is the luscious Lamma island, only mildly spoilt by an enormous factory – aside from that it’s a charming places with a few small villages and gorgeous walks. I was unfortunately very unlucky with the weather and got caught and soaked to death whilst walking back but nevertheless a nice little daytime retreat from the urban jungle of central. Small little dim sum restaurants line the village leading back to the ferry station and lots of fresh and cheap seafood places for those looking to try the local specialties.
The Noonday Gun
Before heading to this urban jungle, I was informed of the firing of the Noonday Gun – a blank shot fired everyday at noon from just beyond The Excelsior Hotel. The story begins with the Jardines and acts a reminder of timeliness, a tradition that has continued since the 1860’s and has since been immortalised in Noel Coward’s, ‘Mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun. The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this foolish habit. In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off a noonday gun.’ It’s a fun little afternoon activity to do and draws a crowd daily.
Eating in HK
Why didn’t anybody tell me to bring more money for food? The standard of cuisine here is excellent, whether you want Vietnamese, Thai, Fusion Spanish or traditional Dim Sum and Chinese street food – there is ample choice. It seems that even at a very reasonable and by comparison to Dubai often cheap price, you can be excellently well-fed. A couple of places we went to that I recommend:
– Tim’s Kitchen (Shang Wan) – perfect dining spot for some Dim Sum. We were a group of about 7 and stuffed ourselves on pork, chicken, fish, tofu, steamed buns, fried and baked goods all impeccably presented and accompanied with Jasmine tea. This michelin starred restaurant set us back AED75 each / HK$ 150 – what a winner.
– Chom Chom (Peel Street) – Vietnamese food, a little more pricey but the signature dishes were excellent and the atmosphere of the boutique-sized restaurant made it worth it. I would definitely recommend paying this place a visit.
– 22 Ships (in Wanchai) – Located in the slightly more upmarket end of the district, this serves experimental modern Spanish/European cuisine in a tapas style. Poached duck egg toasties, Spanish breakfast, crispy fish skin with taramasalata, green tea ice cream for dessert. Totally unique in concept and menu – and in a really cool setting. Sadly the bone marrow was finished by the time we arrived but I hear that it is one of their signature dishes and exceptionally tasty.
– Shanghai Lai (Gough Street) – This was a great place to head to for my final meal. Classic Cantonese Dim Sum, noodles and lots of tea. A great place to stop for lunch and certainly value for money.
To summarise, Hong Kong is a happening place, for us it was a blessing to be located so close to central and being able to meander through all the markets and shops where the local culture thrives. We were lucky to fall back on some friends and family who knew the area well and were able to offer us advice, for example walking up Victoria Peak rather than taking an overpriced, if not scenic tram journey and niche little cafes for breakfast. One tip for Hong Kong, bring an umbrella and a closed pair of shoes!