Hong Kong, I love you. You were everything and nothing like I expected. What did I expect? Bright lights, big claustrophobic city, tons of people, frantic pace, pollution, grittiness.
What do you deliver? Well, all of that, if I’m honest. And so much more.
Narrow roads, winding up lush green mountainsides to panoramic views. The feeling of space and being high above the skyscrapers, surrounded by nature but with the beat of the city still audible from below.
Each place I looked seemed to be a contrast to the one before. Looking out of the high rise hotel window at a view obscured by run down blocks with washing hanging from the window ledges, horns honking on the busy street below and trams rumbling past. But, past that, through a gap in the dull mayhem, a slim view of tall hills densely packed with trees, dominating the distant skyline.
Or walking down the side street next to the hotel, choked on taxi fumes and getting side-swiped by the mouth-watering smell of food I couldn’t even name, coming from a nearby street cart.
You’re a place where I can see a group of people doing Tai Chi as I take a sun-dappled walk, with sporadic glimpses of sparkling blue water and steep woodland at one end of the day; then stand on a typical city street and let an overcrowded tram packed to the gills with office workers go by at the other end.
To take the number 15 bus up to The Peak and see the harbour laid out was amazing. Trying to take in the magnitude of the cargo ships piled high with containers on one side, and picking out the ferry terminus, and by extension the place I’d eaten dinner and watched the skyline come alight on the other.
The Peninsula Hotel, one of your oldest landmarks, no longer with a waterfront address, but with a relaxing afternoon tea on offer.
The Star Ferry, a short but sweet experience giving access to the mainland.
Meandering through hordes of people to find the Temple Street Night Market. It’s a tourist attraction, full of ‘Michael Kors’ purses and cheap sunglasses, but the food smelt tempting, the atmosphere was lively and the experience certainly didn’t disappoint.
Going to the Stanley Markets on a recommendation, and getting the surprising bonus of beautiful Repulse Bay. Hills rising either side, wide open water sparkling in the sun, and a small beach nestled at one of the promenade made it a perfect lunch stop while deciding on which stalls to make purchases from.
Seeking out one of your parks, and stumbling across St. John’s Cathedral, with a wedding in progress. A stately yellow building, dwarfed by the city that’s grown up around it.
These are just a few of the things I discovered and loved during my short stay. Just a snapshot, a sample. Like trying something different in a restaurant and finding a potential new favourite dish. Something you might not have all the time, but you’re glad you tried.
I can’t articulate what I was looking for in Hong Kong, but what I found was a city in balance. As tranquil as you are frenetic. Calm, open beauty juxtaposed with the smell of fuel, and zigzagging through crowded streets to the soundtrack of clattering pedestrian crossings. Beautiful and industrious in just the right measures.
I’d been warned of your beauty, but it didn’t prepare me for what I found.
Until next time Hong Kong, you unexpected delight.
Hong Kong #wins:
- Missing the Peak Tram queue
- The Peak and Peak Circle Trail
- Peninsula Hotel, afternoon tea
- Cheap and efficient public transport
- Temple Street Night Market
- St. John’s Cathedral
- Stanley Market and Repulse Bay
- Deligator and Djibouti (food and drink). This is a double win of a) finding delicious food, friendly staff and cool surroundings, and b) being able to say, ‘Oh yeah, we just stumbled across this tiny place in the middle of a crowded street and it was an absolute hidden gem.’ Yeah, one of those people.
Hong Kong’s ‘could do better’:
- ‘Riddle me this’ response to getting questions or advice – hotel staff were huge culprits of this. Finding out which tram we needed to get and how to obtain an Octopus pass for the aforementioned tram was like playing a round of Cluedo
- The more or less constant rendition of, ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ being eerily piped into the hallway outside the hotel room
- Being unable to get tea (I understand this may be less of an issue for someone who’s not British)
- The ‘paparazzi’ experience which happened a few times, was a bit disconcerting.
If you go:
Get an Octopus pass: Public transport is cheap and fairly easy to navigate, even with my lousy sense of direction and memory for landmarks (you also get reimbursed for anything you don’t use on the card).
Take the number 15 bus from Central (or somewhere along the route) up to The Peak if you want to avoid the long queue* (and bigger price) for The Peak Tram.
*I hate to queue.
Walk the Circle Trail around The Peak along Lugard Road.
Afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel – no bookings taken, just turn up and queue*.
*I will queue for cake.
Garden of the Stars – no idea who anyone was, but following directions helped get our bearings and led to a nice walk along the promenade.
Pizza Express at Ocean Terminal for a great view of the city lights across the water, and a reasonably priced meal.
Temple Night Market – not overwhelming and an easy couple of stops on the MTR with a (short) three block walk at the end.