It’s interesting how the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong is so very different from that of Bangkok. The best way to explain it is that the crowds of people in Hong Kong ignore you rather than continuously solicit you. I prefer being ignored! Whatever the reasons, I felt more comfortable here, though the residents are certainly ruder than any other people we encountered in Southeast Asia. For example, in Bangkok and Singapore, people line up to board subways whereas in Hong Kong they push, shove and cut you off to be the first one on the train.
Hong Kong and New York City tend to draw a lot of comparisons, the most obvious being their respective skylines. Although I’m a New Yorker, I have to admit that the Hong Kong skyline really outdoes New York’s without question. Hong Kong’s most spectacular buildings are located in close proximity to each other, providing a continuous and impressive sight. Lush, green mountains offer a beautiful backdrop for the buildings; their lights shimmering off of Victoria Harbor create a scene unrivaled by any skyline I’ve ever seen. The view can easily be taken in from quite a few easily accessible vantage points, including across the harbor in Kowloon and from the top of Victoria Peak (the highest point in Hong Kong). There’s also a nightly light show set to music, where many of the buildings light up rhythmically, but it’s not as impressive as I was expecting. The show is free, though, so there’s no reason not to check it out. The two best locations to see the show are the Kowloon side of the harbor (near the Hong Kong Museum of Art), or on a ferry.
There are a few architectural gems left over from British rule, but sadly, many old buildings have been leveled for the sake of “progress” and replaced with modern structures. The Western market is an Edwardian-style building made of beautiful red brick. There’s not much inside that’s noteworthy, but the building itself is beautiful. The old police station and prison on Hollywood Road are wonderful examples of the few remaining Victorian buildings.
I became quite a market and junk-shop junkie in Southeast Asia, and the best place to find this type of shopping in Hong Kong is Upper Lascar Road, known to locals as “Cat Street.” This tiny road is shut down to motorized traffic, allowing stores’ contents to literally spill out into the street. It’s lined with “antique shops” that are actually just a step above junk shops. Visitors can find really good deals here on some unique items. There’s also a lot of mass produced crap, but it’s easy to tell the difference. As with any Southeast Asian market, visitors should be prepared to bargain, though I will admit my own negotiating skills are poor at best, especially if I really want something. I ended up undermining my companion who was trying to reach a deal for both of us, and doing a fine job until I interjected. I still ended up with a pair of unique Foo Dogs, though I paid a few bucks more than if I had just kept my mouth shut. Shoppers can also head to nearby Hollywood Road, which has more high-end antique stores and art galleries— really nice stuff, if you can afford it.
If you’re in the market for jewelry or anything made from jade, head to the Jade Market in Kowloon, where you can find items ranging from porcelain teapots to pearl earrings. If you’re looking for a bargain, try arriving just before closing time, as sellers are eager to make last minute sales. Again, be prepared to negotiate! My companion got three pairs of pearl earrings for the equivalent of $7 USD a piece.
The street food in Hong Kong is different from other Southeast Asian cities we visited. Instead of roadside carts, small food stalls and storefronts provide cheap and easy dining options. One roadside noodle stand at the corner of Hollywood and Elgin Road provided a tasty and filling lunch. Full of locals grabbing a quick bite, noodles and dumplings in broth for two of us came to under $7 USD— definitely a good find!
We ate the rest of our meals in sit-down restaurants, which were more expensive, but also very tasty. The Mask of Si Chuen, in the Kowloon district, serves very good, albeit spicy, food. My companion ordered her seafood dish “mild,” and it was still pretty hot, though my shredded pork and pancakes (similar to moo shu pork) could have been spicier. We started with prawn dumplings, had some drinks, and paid 600 HKD, or about $85 USD- definitely pricier than the other cities we visited in Southeast Asia, but we expected that. The decor is pretty cool too— huge Sichuan opera masks hang from the ceiling.
We took the mid-levels escalator from the lower part of the city up to Caine Road to have dinner at Shui Hu Ju (68 Peel St.). Built on the side of a mountain, Hong Kong is very hilly. The escalators were constructed to give pedestrians an easier way to travel within the city. Shui Hu Ju was recommended by Time Out, and the food and ambiance lived up to our expectations. The dimly lit, rustic Chinese décor was inviting and the food was delicious. We started with the pork dumplings, which were every bit as tasty as we’d expected. The deep fried lamb shanks were tender, juicy, and fell right off the bone. The chili chicken was also good, but a pain to pick apart because of all the bones. Really good all around, except for the annoying couple next to us! The woman, who was clearly milking this guy for a free dinner, was rude to the waitress and her inane babble was extremely irritating! Still, we had a very enjoyable meal, which was made more enjoyable when she left!
After Shui Hu Ju, we walked over to The Globe for a drink. Located in the “expat” section of the city and catering to the city’s large English and Australian population, The Globe is a bit trendy, but worth a visit. They serve T8 by the Typhoon Brewing Company and I wanted to give this craft beer a try. Poured from a hand drawn tap, it’s clearly a British influenced beer, though not as heavy or “syrupy” as you’d find in a London pub. It’s a solid beer, but expensive— the equivalent of $9 USD a pint.
Just outside the city is Lantau Island, home to the Po Lin Monastery and the world’s largest outdoor Buddha. Lantau is accessible by the MTR (subway) and definitely worth a day trip. From the subway station, the 23 bus or cable cars will take you to the monastery; we opted for the bus. The Buddha statue sits at the top of a large staircase and provides a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The swastika on Buddha’s chest may seem a little disconcerting, but keep in mind the symbol was used in Chinese culture long before the Nazis hijacked it. If you don’t mind a walk, the Path of Wisdom is just fifteen minutes from the main area. Large, carved planks of wood are set upright in the ground along the path and stretch more than thirty feet into the air. Arranged in a figure eight pattern to represent infinity, they are quite an impressive sight set against the backdrop of the mountains.
I am by no means a horseracing enthusiast, but I do enjoy an occasional race. The Happy Valley Racecourse is a world-class venue for thoroughbred horseracing and definitely worth a visit. Elaborate steps are taken to ship horses in from the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong residents, as well as Chinese mainlanders, can’t seem to get enough of the sport. Being some of the most prolific gamblers in the world, it’s easy to understand why. Unfortunately, the track was closed for the off-season during our visit, but anyone visiting Hong Kong during racing season would do well to check it out.
On our last day in Hong Kong we had to see the view from the top of Victoria Peak before we left. The tram that takes visitors to the top feels like climbing to the top of a roller coaster, just without the eventual drop (thankfully). The view is incredible! Of course, there are shops and vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs, but despite the expected commercialism, Victoria Peak can be quite tranquil— especially on the walking paths that lead away from the shops and meander through the park.
As always, I was saddened when my trip to Hong Kong came to an end, but incredibly satisfied with the time I spent there. Hong Kong, and all of Southeast Asia, was an experience like no other; I’m so happy I went, and I look forward to returning.