Mike and I spent a long weekend in Hong Kong with our friends Mike and Angelina from Toronto. Then they came back to Taiwan with us, for two weeks of fun!
Thursday October 18 Mike and I headed out to Hong Kong, one day in advance of our good friends Mike and Angelina, who were to join us from Canada. The flight from Taipei is very short (~1.25 h), and because of that, we chose a leisurely day of travel and an afternoon flight. It was certainly nice not to have to wake up at 5 am in order to get a flight that would allow us to get to our hotel at a reasonable time for once! We even decided to take a taxi to the airport (and arrange a pickup for the way back on the following Monday). After working out the cost of us traveling to the airport and 4 of us travelling back by transit and the cab, it was only $10 CAD more to cab in both directions. Certainly worth it, given transit involves driving to the high speed rail station (and parking the scooter for 4 days), a high speed rail trip and a shuttle bus from the train station to the airport.
When we arrived in Hong Kong, once again, Mike had a good idea about where everything is – recalling from his visit 4 years ago. I love that feeling of faint familiarity when you return to a place you’ve once been. We took the airport express and transferred to the subway to scoot over to Hong Kong island, where our hostel was. The hostel was in a mansion (a huge building with an inset entrance, which is common architecture in HK). Finding the building was no problem, but finding the right elevator to access the floor that we needed, and then finding someone to unlock the gate that was separating us from it was a little bit more challenging. We checked in, and immediately I could see why HK was Mike’s least favourite place last trip (Okinawa, Japan, northern Taiwan and Hong Kong). Our room was immediately across from the hostel’s front desk (and only 3 feet away). Upon entering the room, we discovered that the inside of the door had cork board nailed to it, no doubt an effort to sound proof a little bit. The room was probably the smallest we’ve had yet (and was not the cheapest), and the walls were paper thin. No matter, we can manage anywhere for 1 or 2 nights, and in some senses the room was more comfortable than back-country camping in a Newfoundland bog in cold and rainy October!
I was pretty tired from a few days of last minute preparation for Mike and Ange’s visit, so we had a quick nap, and then walked down to Causeway Bay to see the sights and find food.
My first impressions of Hong Kong:
- It is easily the most multicultural place we have been since leaving Canada (although Busan deserves note for having a pretty large Russian population)!
- As one might expect, it is very reminiscent of being in England, although it is always obvious you aren’t there too.
- The latter point has its advantages: I declared I would be having a bottle of Ribena at breakfast every day (just like in London), and I stuck to it. Yum!
Friday October 19 Mike and I decided that, being on vacation, we would have a bit of a lazy day and sleep in until checkout. We packed our bags, and headed over to Kowloon (near Prince Edward station), where we would be staying in an apartment (rented out by someone currently living and working in Beijing) for the rest of the weekend. We had arranged with the owner to check in early in the day, so that everything was taken care of before Mike and Angelina arrived after their very long day of travel. We were very happy with the little apartment – it was clean and nice. In fact, it was just what we needed! After dropping off our things, we had a pork and rice brunch at a shop just down the street. Then we walked through Mong Kok the Ladies’ Market and surrounding area. When we had our fill, we took a quick ride on the MRT over to Lan Kwai Fong, where we had a few pints at a British pub. When it was time, we headed back to the airport to pick up Mike and Angelina! Once we had found them, we took a cab back to Prince Edward, and after they dropped off their things and put their feet up, we headed out once again to Mong Kok to look around the markets at night. On the way home, we got a delicious dinner and a few beers at another place on the street with our apartment.
Saturday October 20 It was a beautiful day – perfect for a trip to Victoria Peak! We grabbed some coffee and headed down to the tram station. There was a pretty big line up, but the wait wasn’t too bad. The tram line was shockingly steep – so much so that I felt sorry for the people who didn’t get a seat! We got glimpses of HK’s amazing skyline through the trees as we ascended the mountain, and soon enough we were at the top. We walked along Lugard Road, a loop of a few km, catching up and taking in the beautiful weather and the views. However, we kept an eye on the time, as there were signs indicating a road race that was to begin at 3 pm. As it got closer to 3 pm, the number of racers warming up on the trail increased, and we made sure to descend before we were trampled by the crowd that was sure to follow! We decided to go (back) to Lan Kwai Fong, where we settled on some Thai food for lunch on a patio.
After the morning’s activity, we decided to head back to the apartment for a quick break. Mike, a little jetlagged, took a quick nap, while the rest of us nipped out to explore the Flower Market and Bird Garden. It was getting near closing, and much of the Bird Garden had already been packed away, but we still saw an impressive array of birds. There were bilingual parrots who greeted you with “ni hao” and “hello” with equal skill, and a cockatoo who expertly sang “Happy Birthday” to the crowds who gathered around him. After the Bird Garden, we woke Mike from his nap and headed down to the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui to watch Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights. It is the world’s largest permanent light and sound show, where lighting on the skyline is choreographed to music that is played along the waterfront. It was pretty neat, but we were surprised by the number of people who left immediately after it was done! We hung around to take photos and enjoy the skyline some more after the show. After that, we walked around in search of dinner. Down at Tsim Sha Tsui, everything is expensive, and we finally found all the street peddlers we had noticed were absent before. After walking quite a ways, we finally spotted a mom-and-pop shop with barbecued pork and goose hanging in the window. We ordered some of each, some bok choy, rice and beer, and had a delicious, cheap meal to close out the night.
Sunday October 21 We wrapped up our trip to Hong Kong with some delicious dim sum and a trip to Lantau Island. We found a dim sum spot on the second floor of a building (above a bank), and walked in to the chaos that, funnily enough, made me feel like I was in Scarborough again! The whole weekend had been a little frustrating being helpless in terms of language again. We had gotten used to being able to participate in at least simple interactions in Mandarin (“How much is it?” “Do you want a bag?” “For here or to go?” etc), and it was very jarring to be back to only knowing “thank you” which is “mh goi”, and the names of a few dim sum dishes. However, Mike and I successfully navigated our dim sum order, and we had a good meal. The head waiter was a lot of fun – he was delighted to see us, and we could see him talking to other tables about us too. Everyone was curious – I think we picked a place that wasn’t on the tourist map. We were certainly the only Westerners in the packed room. He kept coming by and asking us how we liked the food, where we were from and other questions. I had a really good time.
When we were finished our meal, we headed over to Lantau Island, where we took a 25 minute ride on a cable car to the Ngong Ping Plateau. Once on the plateau, we walked over to the area’s giant seated bronze Buddha, and took a little hike to the Wisdom Path, with its wooden steles with beautiful calligraphy on them. It was an enjoyable day, however an extremely long wait for a cable car on the way back was tough on both my feet and my patience! Still, it was an amazing view on the 25 minute trip back down, and the whole day was a pretty cool experience. We chose an Italian place in the mall at the bottom of the cable car to grab dinner, and then headed back to the apartment to pack up for our early exit (~5 am) the next morning.
Overall we had a fantastic trip, and Mike even said the more clement weather was a welcome change from his last visit. I would certainly like to return, to check out the Jade Market, Aberdeen and Stanley, spend some more time exploring Lantau Island, and also make a visit to Macau!