Guest story brought to you by The Wayfarer
It may sound crazy to pick up and fly halfway around the world to spend three days in Hong Kong. Hell, you’re barely on the ground longer than you’re on the plane. But that’s just what a friend and I did this past summer. We left Newark, New Jersey on a Wednesday afternoon and landed in Hong Kong late Thursday night. After taking a bus to our hostel in Causeway Bay, checking in and unpacking, we found one of the few open places to eat within walking distance … a food court. Yes, Americans can find food courts like a pirate finds treasure. But we were jet lagged and out of sorts and had quit caring about looking like tourists around the time we went through customs, so we ate burgers and went to bed.
Day 1: Big Buddha and motion sickness
I woke up to the sound of a steady rain pour and felt grateful for the cooler temperature than when we arrived. Believe it when I say Hong Kong is hot and humid in June, so pack accordingly. We hit the ground at full speed because we had a packed agenda for our first day in China. Our first stop was Lantau Island to see Tian Tan Buddha, a large bronze statue located at Ngong Ping on the island. Though the day was cloudy and overcast, it made for great black and white photographs of Buddha rising through the mist. There are 268 stairs to the top of the temple, so if you need a rest on your way up, just stop and ‘take pictures’ like everyone else.
Gravity is a fickle friend, and this belief was reinforced by our bus ride back down the steep mountain as we bounced, swung and narrowly missed head-on collisions all while going well over the speed limit. One poor girl got sick in her purse, and I’m pretty sure she was a local! Having cheated death for sadly not the first time in my life, we took the train back into the city and headed up to Victoria Peak, a scenic tourist spot overlooking the city, Victoria Harbour and Lamma Island. Honestly, the trolley ride was far more interesting than the pretty view. The trolley was built in I suspect 1945 and it creaked up the side of the mountain at a 45-degree angle. At the top we posed for pictures, enjoyed the view and realised we were hungry, so we made our way back down the mountain to get some stir-fry.
After dinner, we got ready for our first night out in Hong Kong. Using our handy Octopus cards, reusable payment cards for public transportation in Hong Kong, we took the metro to Lan Kwai Fong, a local nightlife favourite. This area is cool because there is something for almost everyone: dancing bars, drinking bars and 7-Elevens! Yes, 7-Eleven is an acceptable, neigh, a popular spot to pick up a few drinks and socialise. And if you don’t feel like being confined by walls, just pick up a drink and enjoy it while walking around Lan Kwai Fong and watching awkward meetings and lover’s greetings and my personal favourite, semi-organised street dancing!
Day 2: Assimilation and vertigo
Our second day in Hong Kong, we felt ourselves assimilating a bit as we ordered our green tea frappuccinos from Starbucks. Next step, salt and fruit water from the market! Our plan for the day was to hike Dragon’s Back trail, ‘not one of the harder trails’ we were told, and then end up at Shek O beach. We started off the day by missing our bus stop for the hiking trail and taking the bus all the way to the beach for a little sneak peak at what was waiting for us after our ‘nice little hike’.
A few thoughts on hiking Dragon’s Back trail: from the beach, the ridge really does look like a dragon’s back. Also, I’m deathly afraid of heights but was able to do this hike which goes about 1000 feet in the air and, if this is one of the easier trails in Hong Kong, then damn, I’m a wimp.
Honestly, I don’t think the hike was as hard or as long as it seemed to us at that time, I think our expectations were just different from the reality. I think we were expecting a leisurely two-hour hike on a well-worn trail where we could take some photographs, enjoy the scenic views, then make our way down to the beach to relax. When in reality, the hike took twice as long in the sticky Hong Kong humidity and by the time we stumbled down to the beach, tired and sweaty nearly four hours later, it started to rain. So it goes. It was actually a pretty good bonding opportunity as we had plenty of time and only each other to talk to … like it or not. I think we both agreed when we returned from our trip that the hike was actually our favourite Hong Kong activity!
After a well-deserved afternoon nap, we got ready to tackle Lan Kwai Fong again with no inkling that the light rain fall would soon turn into a monsoon (not that it would have stopped us). We ducked into ‘Club 7-Eleven’, as we dubbed it, before we could get completely soaked, then made our way to a dark, back-alley bar with strong drinks and loud music. We lounged, drank and chatted with locals and tourists alike, and as the night wore on, we decided to make our way back to the hostel. This turned out to be easier said than done because everyone on the island had the same idea as it was pouring rain and there were no cabs to be had or trains running. We managed to flag down a handful of cabs over an hour, but none would take us to Causeway Bay, and we couldn’t understand why. It was raining so hard that we could barely see cabs and cabs sure couldn’t see us, and in one harrowing moment, we witnessed a girl get hit by a cab as she and her friends ran across the street. Luckily she was just pushed to the ground, the contents of her purse scattered and she was relatively alright … they even got a free cab ride for their troubles. A while later, soaking wet and cold (oh what a change from our hike), a cab driver took pity on us and drove us back to our hostel. He didn’t even rip us off! All in all, we counted day two as a success.
Day 3: Dim sum and awkward ice-cream flavours
In search of authentic Chinese food, we found it at a local dim sum house in Causeway Bay. I always say that a good travel experience is not without its awkward moments (or is it just me who’s awkward?) and this entire dining experience was one big awkward moment. First, we were literally the only westerners there and we stood out as my friend was a whole head and shoulders taller than everyone (she’s 5′10″ and blonde). There were language barriers, cultural barriers and stereotypes made by us and of us. But as we looked through our picture menu that our sweet waitress finally brought, and essentially chose dishes at random, we were pleasantly surprised with everything we ordered. It was all mouth watering, delicious dim sum. As a small reward for our adventures in Chinese food, we ordered Coca-Colas, and they were brought with a smile and a straw. A smile can go such a long way when travelling abroad.
The rest of the day was devoted to exploring the city and going to the goldfish market, flower market and Ladies Market. They are all relatively close to one another, within walking distance. I liken the Ladies Market to shopping on Canal Street in Chinatown in New York City … you’ve got to get sketchy to get the good stuff. Purses, jewellery and clothing are on display in each tent, but the quality designer knock-offs are kept ‘hush hush’ for only the most serious of shoppers. I am not a most serious shopper, and I get a little weirded out when taken into back rooms and basements in foreign countries, so I settled for a decent knock-off Longchamp bag in plain view.
For those of you who do not know, ice-cream is my favourite food, so I was excited to find a quaint, homemade ice-cream shop near our hostel. But instead of the usual suspects, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavours, I got to try bacon and eggs ice-cream and lobster ice-cream, which had an essence of Old Bay seasoning. I had no idea one could get so creative when making ice-cream!
Our last day came to a close, and we sat around on the hostel’s back porch sipping Tsingtao and sharing our reflections with other travellers. Hong Kong is a gem of a city, both modern and traditional, peaceful and hectic. Whatever you are searching for, I bet it lies in wait in Hong Kong.