What should you do if you find yourself in Hong Kong? I really have no idea, but here are some suggestions, based on things I did. And before you decide that I was probably just bumbling around obliviously, I did actually ask Hong Kong residents in advance. So there.
I mean, they were pretty much all expats, but still.
Massive shout out to Dan and Zhao, who looked after me way too well, and fed me way too much. Seriously, if there was an Olympics for over-eating, we wouldn’t have taken part, because we’d have been eating instead of registering.
EAT ALL THE FOOD
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the food isn’t that cheap (and the drinks even less so), but there’s some incredible food in Hong Kong, and it’s worth seeking advice as to where you should go. For many expats, the joy of Hong Kong lies in its food, and life can coalesce beautifully into perfect sense as you drift comatose and content from breakfast to lunch to dinner and back again (with the small matter of work in between).
For what it’s worth, here are a couple of places I ate that I can recommend:
The best Thai food I’ve eaten in my life, and I’ve been to Thailand. It’s basically like eating in someone’s house. In fact, it might be someone’s house. Food that makes you cry with happiness, particularly when combined with jet lag and the fact that the last thing you ate was Virgin Atlantic’s microwaved mushroom pasta.
Tim Ho Wan
This unassuming dim sum cafe in Kowloon is officially the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. You wouldn’t know it from the diners or the decor or the service or the price, but you’ll get a hint when you eat the baked pork bun, which essentially tastes like someone turned heroin into a meat, ecstasy into a sauce and crack cocaine into a pastry, then stuck it all together and begged God to remove the side-effects of drugs just for this one food.
A kinda Malaysian-Chinese-Western fusion restaurant on the border of Hong Kong’s bustling Soho. The waiters are all white with Australian accents which makes you feel like you’re cheating, but the food is interesting and tasty, and the crab is a juicy, delicious mess. By the time you’ve finished, its piled remnants form a poignant crustacean graveyard over which you can mourn the cost of the bill.
Hong Kong Island may be the epicentre of Hong Kong, but much of the city lies North across Victoria Harbour in Kowloon. The British acquired Kowloon separately to Hong Kong Island, and there’s plenty of history on this mainland peninsula. It used to be the site of the infamous Kowloon Walled City, a Triad-controlled crime haven that was razed to the ground by authorities in 1993 as a last resort. It’s easier to experience older Hong Kong here, and you can while away hours wandering through the boisterous back streets and sampling cheap food.
Kowloon has a number of good museums, almost all of which you can visit for just $10 (~£1). In particular, a visit to the Museum of History provides an impressive, immersive and comprehensive tour through the region’s ancient and modern past. The peninsula’s waterfront is lined with more museums, shopping malls and a statue of Bruce Lee, and by night you can sit with a cold drink and look back across the harbour to Hong Kong Island. A Light Show rather needlessly illuminates the already-bright skyline, where towering skyscrapers glow through the night.
Hong Kong is made up of over 200 islands, so there are plenty of bays and beaches to enjoy, including on Hong Kong Island itself. I visited the small town of Stanley, an easy bus ride from central Hong Kong that winds through the jungle hills. Everything here is more relaxed than in the city hub, and on the day I visit, both the town and the beach itself are almost deserted, while the market is populated but peaceful. There are some lovely views along the waterfront and also from the top of the double-decker bus as it snakes along the coastline.
My needlessly provocative subtitle will doubtless have drawn your attention, but really I’m just talking about going up tall things. There are lots of tall things in Hong Kong, including a whole host of rooftop bars that look out over the glittering skyline. Most notably there’s The Peak, a retail and observation complex nestled into the hills on Hong Kong Island, which claims to be the highest point in Hong Kong (there are hills on both side of it that are taller, but whatever).
You can reach The Peak via a charmingly faux-old-fashioned tram, and it only costs $40 (~£4) return, which is totally worth paying because otherwise you’d have to, y’know, walk. What’s probably less worth paying is the extra $40 for the topmost observation deck when you reach The Peak. Sure, you get an audio guide, but essentially the whole complex is an observation deck, so being on the top one really only improves your view of all the other ones. On a clear day, you’re rewarded with stunning vistas of the city and Kowloon stretching away behind it. On a regular day, it’s a bit like playing Where’s Wally, except with buildings instead of Wally and smog instead of everything else. Still worth it to gain perspective on Hong Kong: being in the middle of the city can feel oppressive and it’s amazing how quickly you can get off the roads and watch the buildings fall away, melting into a jungle that stretches up hills towards the sky.
When you return to the city, the tram exit leads you almost directly into Hong Kong Park, a peaceful garden nestled amongst the gleaming high-rises, with an aviary, a conservatory and steep, winding paths.
Hong Kong has some areas of incredible natural beauty and it’s worth getting out into them. Away from the city, the islands are quiet and you get a feel for life in the rural villages. Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong and easily accessible from central Hong Kong on the metro. There’s plenty of culture here in the form of old forts, temples and a Giant Buddha statue. The small fishing town of Tai O is the base of a jungle coastal walk that winds through the hills and lends itself to beautiful sunset sea views.
Occupy Hong Kong?
As I write this on Sunday evening, there are sirens going off outside the building: thousands of protestors have crowded into central Hong Kong and clashed with police in scarcely believable scenes. Tension has been rising all week and police are now using tear gas to disperse the protestors. Public transport and communication systems have been restricted around the protest area and numerous central roads are closed. This is a level of civil disobedience beyond what has ever been seen in China’s Hong Kong, and quite apart from anything else, it makes it a lot more difficult for me to get to the airport, so I guess we’ll see how that works out.