Hong Kong Blog !
After successfully leaving Bali, Jessie and I were looking forward to a little break from the backpacking scene and ready to return back to a large and very well structured city. At first I wasn’t sure whether staying until Saturday evening would be overkill and leaving a day earlier would be best; however, we took advantage of each day, rain or shine, and stayed busy up until the last second visiting almost every main attraction and site Hong Kong has to offer. Many people say that Hong Kong is a place for shopping and eating, and while the shopping aspect didn’t occur, we fully took advantage of the restaurant and food scene to the fullest. Unfortunately the weather didn’t work out in our favor, but we had a glimpse of sun and perfect weather the final day, which was a nice touch to the end of our visit.
We first arrived in Hong Kong Tuesday evening and took the bus over to Nathan Street where the famous Chunking Mansions are located. Set in a perfect location, the Chunking Mansions is the location for most of the budget accommodation in the city, and well known for its diverse residents (mainly Indian and Pakistani) and it’s rumored origin of the SARS virus. Yet, HK is doing a lot to clean up the area and it turned out to be one of the nicer rooms we’ve stayed in thus far, and the location was indeed perfect for getting anywhere in the city quickly. That night I wondered around looking for food before settling on a popular looking place where I had my first taste of roast goose with rice noodles - cheap and delicious. The next morning we headed over to the embassy to start the visa process for China, which actually took very little time and was extremely efficient. We also stopped by the tourist information center and picked up some valuable pamphlets on different city walking tours, good maps, and most importantly, a guide specifically geared to presenting the top restaurants for congee (rice porridge), rice noodles, noodles, and rice, which we used religiously each day.
The congee we tried multiple times was really nice. The rice porridge is very easy on the stomach, and the bland flavor of rice lends itself to any added flavors, in our case either pork and fish, or fish, jellyfish, and minced pork. The dish used to be only popular for morning meals, but is now consumed at all hours of the day. We also went that first day to a place where fresh fish balls have been made for the past 60 years, and they were indeed delicious as well. After getting the visa process underway, we took a bus down to Stanley Market, a very famous waterside market on the southern tip of HK island in order to see some of the beaches and beautiful surrounding islands. We didn’t realize we’d be back there for the boat races the following day, which was unfortunate since we would have chosen another location to explore, but it worked out in the end. Jessie’s best friend, Kristen, who’s family is from HK arrived from Beijing in the middle of the day, so we finished our walk through the HK Park in order to meet up with her. That night we were invited by Kristen to have dinner with her family at a private restaurant specializing in Shanghainese food. The dinner was absolutely incredible. Private restaurants became really popular in HK after the SARS epidemic since people were no longer going to restaurants. Certain entrepreneurs decided to turn their apartments or offices into small kitchens and eating areas where they would invite friends and guests over for dinner. The government currently turns a blind eye, and in the case of this restaurant, the décor was such that it actually felt like you were in true restaurant. Without adding boring details, there were about 20 different items served that night including braised pork, chicken, fried fish, tofu (in multiple ways), stir fried noodles, raw jellyfish, and much more, including my favorite dessert…glutinous rice balls filled with sesame! It was all really delicious and we couldn’t have asked for a better meal from Kristen’s family.
That night we went over to Carlson’s apartment (Kirsten’s boyfriend) to watch the Barcelona soccer game, which started at about 2:45am, and although I couldn’t make it through the first half without dosing off, apparently they won so everyone was in good spirit’s the following day for the boat races.
We woke up leisurely the next morning to meet up with Kristen and Carlson at around 1pm to head back to Stanley to watch the races. I was almost positive that different parades and events occurred early in the morning, but apparently the excitement doesn’t start until later in the afternoon, so I didn’t feel pressured to get there early. However, soon after arriving, we quickly realized that the hype and our expectations for the races were not going to be met. Our travel book made the races out to be very ceremonious and traditional, yet the beach was lined only with corporate tents with international members involved in the races. The boats themselves were simply canoes with a dragon headed nailed to the front. Apparently the races occur at three different locations around HK, with the two others being more “local” in nature. So we quickly rushed to one of the others in hopes of catching a glimpse of the real thing before they finished. Unfortunately once we arrived we discovered that the races had ended 4 hours before, but it was easy to see that the venue was much more geared to watching the races and less on drinking champagne and eating pate. So the whole race situation was pretty disappointing, especially since that was the main reason I wanted to visit Hong Kong at that time. However, we decided that the boat races probably just aren’t as big of a deal as we had thought. When talking with a bunch of Carlson’s friends, none of them had ever been, which should have tipped us off. Anyways, we took advantage of being in an area yet explored and walked around the for the rest of the day.
The following day was much the same, walking around and exploring different neighborhoods of the city. That night was my first real karaoke experience with private rooms, food, alcohol, multiple microphones, and a massive flat screen TV. Not to mention, a room full of people that all sang really well. Apparently when kids from HK are in high school they take breaks for lunch called “Lunch K” where they eat at a karaoke venue and practice their singing - pretty enlightening.
Although at first we thought staying until Saturday may have been overkill, it ended up being one of the more eventful days on our visit. We woke up early and headed towards the airport where a gondola is located that gives great views of the city and ends near the large sitting Buddha, which we quickly visited before returning back. Afterwards we met Kirsten and her other set of family for a traditional Dim Sum lunch at Lei Garden, which once again was incredible. For my first real Dim Sum experience, it will be hard to top, but the food was great and would have been enough by itself to make the last day worth it. The day finally cleared up and we took the famous Star Ferry back to the Kowloon side and walked along Hollywood avenue, soaking in the skyline before heading to the airport for our flight to Phnom Penh..