I visited Hong Kong (HK) just over two months ago and this is the first chance I’ve had to write about it which means two things: I’ve been busy having fun, as well as working a lot; both good.
This particular trip was a strange one for me. It was the first stop of a year-plus trip I’d planned to take with someone else, but something terrible had happened in my personal life weeks before and I was forced to go alone at a time when I felt very vulnerable.
Bar a day sightseeing in Boston on my own, HK was my first proper solo travelling experience. Solo travel didn’t worry me per se as I consider myself well travelled and to have enough common sense to get by, but I wasn’t in a good place emotionally and being away from my family and friends at this time did daunt me a little. However, getting away from it all was the best thing I could ever have done.
Day one: The Peak, Botanical Gardens and Hong Kong Park
I really struggled the first day. HK is ridiculously hot and humid. I stepped out in make-up and pink lipstick and instantly regretted it. As I headed to the Botanical Gardens and Hong Kong Park the humidity bore down on me oppressively. I walked half an hour in the wrong direction and started to resent experiencing everything on my own and began to feel lethargic and, well, just a little sorry for myself, I guess.
Perhaps I’m a bit spoilt but I wasn’t all that impressed with HK’s botanical gardens…it’s a sort of concrete, hilly garden with a small zoo in the middle. Perhaps I was underwhelmed because I don’t really like zoos all that much. They had caged orangutans which I have seen semi-wild in Borneo. There’s no comparison, obviously.
I much preferred HK Park which is about a 10-minute walk from the gardens along several main roads. The park has oriental gardens, lakes, an aviary and a house full of cactuses, among other things. This was pleasant but not better than Kew Gardens or Kensington Gardens. However, it was very zen compared to the rest of the hustle and bustle of HK and the skyscrapers overhead were nicely juxtaposed with the leafy park. There’s also a monument to some of the doctors involved in treating the 2002 – 2004 SARS outbreak in the city and China. The legacy of the outbreak can be seen everywhere around the city via signs telling you that ‘this door handle is cleaned four times a day,’ stuff I thought very pedantic until I realised where the paranoia came from.
Afterwards I took a taxi to The Peak, avoiding the crowds of the Peak Tram as recommended by a friend of a colleague. I’m really glad I did this. At just after midday the queue for the tram was long, whereas my taxi was private, air conditioned and cost only a fiver! Once at the peak I had fish balls and wontons in a fish broth with rice noodles for lunch at a casual diner called Tsui Wah (recommended to me). Absolutely delicious and a steal at HK$49 (roughly £4).
The peak was not quite what I expected. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it’s the top of a mountain, essentially, and it has a massive shopping mall and loads of restaurants on top! I did the nice scenic walk around the mountain which has spectacular views of the city. I paid to go to the top of the observatory which was nice but not really worth the money as the views on the regular level were just as good. It was an easy bus ride back down to town.
Later I walked to Central Pier (via a series of sky walkways) and hopped on an Aqua Luna Symphony of Lights boat tour (HK$285, about £25) to see the Victoria Harbour lights display. This was great and hugely cheered me up. I wasn’t massively impressed by the light display itself, but that didn’t matter as HK has one of the most immense skylines I’ve ever seen (and I visited New York earlier in the year). It’s simply stunning at night when seen from the water with free wine in hand.
Day two: Lamma Island, Temple Street Market
The next day I got up extremely late due to jet lag and general stress exhaustion and headed to Lamma Island (recommended to me) for about 4pm. Lamma was one my favourite places in HK and just what I needed to help clear my head from all the stress I’d been under the last few months.
I got off the boat to the beautiful rustic hippy village of Sok Ku Wan and headed for something to eat straight away at a seafood restaurant that, judging by the toilets, probably had very questionable hygiene standards. Still, I’m quite used to this after travelling around much of Southeast Asia.
I ordered the garlic prawns (HK$180) and two scallops (HK$540). The prawns were piping hot but possibly the most garlicky I have ever eaten. The scallops were underwhelming – actually I’m not a massive fan of scallops, I realised, after this dish – and the whole lunch set me back HK$340 (roughly £28) which is quite steep for lunch (no booze included, either).
You can do a walk on the island which takes about an-hour-and-a-half and is really peaceful and relaxing, great for taking in nice views and soaking up the sun. But watch out for the massive spiders which I had fortunately been pre- warned about. You also pass a little, pleasant beach and abandoned houses. At the end of the walk, I was greeted by a string of seafood restaurants on the little, quaint harbour. I felt extremely relaxed and content as I chilled on the harbour front watching the sun set amid the rustic wood boats with an Asian beer or two while waiting for my ferry back to central.
That night I headed to Temple Street Night Market which is about a 25-minute taxi ride away from the centre. The market itself isn’t bad – lots of tat and average fakes but I did buy some nice costume jewellery. The vibe is a bit different from central, less polished and more rustic Asia with people eating and drinking beer on plastic tables and chairs in the street. Lots of seafood. I ate crispy fried chicken, greens and fried fish washed down with several beers ($199, roughly £16 – great value!). Afterwards I went for a drink on my own down a side road where I spent a good forty minutes discussing the difference between marriage and divorce in India and the UK with an Indian 20-something man and his older uncle.
I actually stayed out for quite a few on my own that night and maybe it was the drink but I didn’t feel out of place at all, bar the odd old Asian man who would stare at me quite rudely most people didn’t bat an eyelid.
Day Three: Stanley Market
Day three I got the bus (again rather late in the day) to the colonial town of Stanley where there’s a very good market, gorgeous views and a little park to wonder around. It was a blistering day with beautiful blue skies. My favourite part of the day was chilling on some rocks by a little hidden temple watching all the wind surfers in the distance. The bus journey there and back affords some gorgeous views and lots of lovely beaches I’d like to go back and visit.
That night I enjoyed some drinks in a swanky bar with the after work crowd as I waited to meet a friend of a friend for dinner. Some company at this point was most welcome! We headed to a lovely crepe restaurant and I learned loads about the city from someone who actually lives there – like, for example, you pay hardly any tax in HK and the government are so well off they gave every citizen a £500 gift which resulted in iPad sales going through the roof.
Last day: Cheung Chau island, fine dining
My final day in HK was spent visiting Cheung Chau. This island I felt was even more rustic Asia than Lamma Island – full of hustle and bustle, street food, packed beaches, little wooden boats and fish drying in the street. My favourite thing about HK is that you can enjoy the cosmopolitan city with all the swanky bars, restaurants and shopping you could wish for or you can hop on a short boat ride and be in a completely different place. I was advised to try the fish balls (HK$1 from a street stall) – amazing – spicy with a succulent texture and pleasing taste. I also tried the custard filled waffles but they were horrible. I ended up swimming on one of the beaches with all the locals on the island (though the water was very questionable) just to get out of the stifling hot humidity.
I ended my trip with an early dinner at the two-starred Michelin restaurant in my hotel (Lan Kwai Fong Hotel – I highly recommend, very central, excellent staff, they even give you a free phone with 3G to use for the duration of your stay!) I really wanted to try a few Michelin starred places while in HK but didn’t want to go on my own so thought an early dinner at my hotel restaurant, called Celebrity Cuisine, would be more suitable.
For around £70 I didn’t get much – three small wines (not UK small, very small) a crab claw stuffed with pork (amazing), conch soup (looked awful but tasted delicious) and something else which I forget exactly what it was (fish of some sort – the wine had gone to my head by this point). The food was exquisite but I don’t think it offered particularly good value for money as other Michelin starred restaurants (Pollen Street Social, for example) I have visited in London do.
Overall I thoroughly recommend HK; there’s something for everyone, it’s easy to navigate and the food is simply delicious. It’s not cheap, though – on average a small glass of wine is £7, with beer only slightly cheaper. In Stanley, I stopped for a Vittel water and iced coffee on the promenade and the bill came to HK$85 (about £8). However, most of the tourist sights are free or really cheap, as are taxis and transport. Also, I didn’t find travelling alone difficult in the slightest but being alone certainly created a different experience to being with a friend or partner. I definitely want to go back to HK, but hopefully in happier times.