(Sorry for the delay in finishing this series. Almost done. But life gets in the way. Credit card links and shilling for airlines don’t pay my bills.)
Despite a population of only approximately 7 million, Hong Kong feels like a megacity, with far more than we could explore in the three-ish days we were there. There are three main regions, and we really only got the chance to explore the two most frequently touristed: Kowloon, the traditionally more Chinese peninsula connected to mainland China, and Hong Kong Island, the more Westernized (i.e., expensive) area. There is another area called the New Territories, and over 200 islands.
As I noted before, we stayed in Kowloon, and I was pleased with that decision (if not the specific hotel decision). Not only were rates lower, but, as my boyfriend put it, Kowloon actually felt “like China,” whereas Hong Kong Island was more like Europe or New York. Upon our arrival in Kowloon, after finally settling into our smoky “club” room at the horrific Eaton, we set out to grab dinner, and found a relatively reasonably priced, quirky restaurant called “Pink Salmon,” whichwas a diner-esque but tasty option just up Nathan Road from our hotel.
From there, we explored the Temple Street Night Market, perhaps Hong Kong’s most famous night market. There really wasn’t anything of note, though, and it was mostly a lot of tourist shlock and poor quality knockoffs of shoes, clothing, and electronics. My mini-Ipod/USB cord had suddenly stopped, so I bought a new one for around $5 after some negotiating. Of course, it did not work. The next night I bought a different one, for about $3, which surprisingly did. For higher quality knock-offs, you need to be approached by someone, and then follow them back to a hidden room or some sort of surreptitious space. It was similar to Chinatown in New York, and neither the prices nor the quality of knockoffs seemed better.
From there it was bedtime, and after a workout and average breakfast, we set off for a day of exploring Hong Kong Island, which was an easy and cheap subway ride away. First stop was the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak. The Peak Tram is basically a trolley car that rides up the huge hill that rises over the northern part of the island. It is a major, overpriced tourist attraction, and though we were there on a random, grey weekday morning in late February, there was a huge line to get on. To give you an idea, tickets were sold in conjunction with those for Madame Tussaud’s, and you have to pay extra for admission to the “Skydeck” at the top of Victoria Peak.
The ride was actually very cool though, and perhaps the steepest funicular-type vehicle I have ever been on.
The tram lets you out in a shopping mall, and you have to go up several escalators to get to the Skydeck. It really is an amazing view, even though it was a grey day. Despite the grey, the sun was burning through the smog, making it very hard to see- and I’d forgotten my sunglasses.
There are also a number of trails along the peak, and you can actually take a bus or walk down for a lot less money than the tram. We took the tram back down, though, before walking around the financial district a bit.
The Hong Kong financial district was very similar to New York’s, though with more high-end shopping malls connecting the largely sterile office towers. Our primary destination was the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s museum – the one destination my boyfriend designated a must-see. While it is not a must-see unless you are a banking nerd (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it is an interesting, free, small museum, fifty-something stories in the air. To access it, you have to go through the office building’s security and up to the Monetary Authority’s offices, where you make a turn into the exhibit space. The exhibit is interesting, given the Hong Kong Dollar’s relatively twisted path over the years.
From the Monetary Authority, we headed to the longest escalator in the world — which was very disappointing. I had imagined a gigantic escalator like you see in a mall, just never ending. Instead, it was a large covered walkway with steps and platforms connecting some people movers and some traditional escalators, rising from the Financial District to Hong Kong’s higher neighborhoods. It is cool that the escalator goes in one direction during the morning, and reverses in the afternoon.
We got off the escalators in SoHo, and grabbed an okay Vietnamese lunch, before heading over to the most famous temple in Hong Kong, the Man Mo Temple. It was cool to be in a less managed temple than the ones in Bangkok. There was a ton of incense and smoke though, so we couldn’t stay in that long. From there, it was back to Kowloon. We had a delicious, reasonably priced (for Hong Kong) dinner at the well-known Din Tai Fung dim sum restaurant, where we shared a communal table with a mix of locals and American and European businessmen.
The next day was a shopping morning, and we checked out a number of stores in Kowloon, before heading on the famous Star Ferry for a water crossing over to Hong Kong Island. The Ferry is very cheap, and provides for an easy, more scenic crossing. Unfortunately for us, it was a pretty grey day. But it was still a cool approach compared to the subway.
From there, we went to a fancy Chinese restaurant with an Executive lunch menu. For about $25 per person, we each had a three-course meal. Lesson learned? Pigeon doesn’t have very much meat on it. But otherwise, it was delicious. The use of tomato-based sauces was something I hadn’t seen much in American-Chinese cooking, and the clams in tomato and garlic sauce we had may have been one of the best dishes of the trip.
We ended our day with more shopping at the Ladies’ Market, which was fairly redundant of the Temple Street Night Market, just during the day (and not solely for ladies).
Overall, Hong Kong was a great place to explore – full of different neighborhoods and atmospheres, a big city with something for everyone. If there longer, I would have explored Hong Kong Island a bit more – particularly Stanley in the South – and maybe made my way over to some of the other islands. Of course the big problem with Hong Kong travel is the cost, as the hotels were around double the price in everywhere else we visited in Asia (except Macau). But with advance planning and points, you can get the costs of hotels down, at least.
Hong Kong was the end of the couples’ part of our journey, and from Hong Kong, my boyfriend flew back to New York on Cathay Pacific business class via Vancouver, and I headed to Penang, Malaysia later that day on Cathay as well, where I spent the last few days of my Asian odyssey. Will try and get those posts out quickly!