They say it’s the small things in life that matter, and after two weeks of not knowing a) what you were eating or b) if it was going to make you ill, paired with travelling and lack of sleep, as Tom and I walked through the arrivals gate into Hong Kong airport we both simultaneously shouted, “Oh my god, Pret A Manger!”. Sad really, but when you work in London and have a Pret every few days, it was like coming home. We made a beeline for it and the prosciutto, cheese and tomato baguette and orange juice I splashed out on was exactly what I needed.
Now properly on our own, we chatted to a really helpful guy at travel information and decided to bite the bullet and dive straight in, so we checked our big bags in to left luggage, withdrew Hong Kong Dollars, bought an Octopus card (equivalent to an Oyster) and caught a public bus headed for Lantau Island. The buses were pretty swanky, with really good aircon, seatbelts and free WiFi – Britain, take note. Getting off at the start of the Ngong Ping Cable Car, we bought tickets (without really checking how much they were… pricey) and started our ascent to Lantau island to visit the ‘Big Buddha’. The journey in the cable car was pretty spectacular with views across aqua blue waters towards the city, and then through dense forests and mountains below. Disembarking the cable car, we made our way through a touristy row of shop fronts and cafes to the base of the 268 steps up to the Buddha. Tom practically ran up, wanting to get it over with, but I took the slow and steady approach. Sweating like pigs, we zipped through a small museum with information about the monument and took in the sight of the Buddha which was, well, big? At this point, overwhelmed by the heat and lack of sleep, Tom threw a bit of a strop so we made our way back down, quickly checking out a temple along the way and joined the queue for the cable car. Returning to the airport, we collected our bags and made our way to a different bus stop to pick up the route for Kowloon where our hostel was located.
The bus took around 45 minutes and using the app ‘maps.me’ we worked out where to get off and navigated our way to the hostel with ease. Hong Kong is a real concrete jungle as, with such a dense population, the whole city is made up of enormous sky scrapers to house the 7.4 million people who live there. Making our way up to the 10th floor of our hostel, we found our room (a shared dorm of 8) and were pleased to find it had everything we needed – a comfy bunk bed with curtains, lamp and plug sockets, a locker for our valuables and a separate shower and toilet. We met 3 american guys in our room who had arrived the previous day, then headed out to the nearby Temple Street Market to explore and find food.
The market was buzzing with activity with street sellers showing off a huge range of products including knock offs of just about every brand going. After walking up and down the streets for what seemed like hours in search of something recognisably edible, we took a risk and chose a street stall busy with locals and plonked ourselves down on plastic stools. A lady brought us menus and, being classic Brits, we nervously pointed at the images of what we thought looked tasty. With a sense of relief, we dug into delicious vegetable noodles, beef with garlic and onions, spring greens and the best crispy chicken wings I’ve ever tasted, all washed down with a massive bottle of beer. Our chopstick skills were definitely lacking and we attracted some stares as we dropped our food everywhere and struggled to grip the noodles, but we managed.
Day 2 consisted of a hell of a lot of walking… we first wandered down Nathan Road, then made our way to Kowloon Park. By this point, the heat and humidity meant we were drenched in sweat and sought out some shade under a tree where we watched some women do their morning tai chi. We wandered the streets of huge designer stores, dipping in to a few to take advantage of their sub-zero air conditioning, before arriving at Victoria Harbour where we got our first glimpse of the blue waters and stunning metropolis skyline of Hong Kong island.
We grabbed lunch (beef, vegetables and rice) at a small cafe and then took the Star Ferry across to the other side of the river. Walking through various shopping malls to stay out of the heat, we made our way to the HSBC building for Tom to nerd out at the architecture, before visiting a beautiful (and free) botanical garden and zoo which were hidden away.
Next on the agenda was a trip on the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak. This was an experience in itself, pressing a button on a tiny platform to request the tram, waiting to see if it goes green to communicate they’ve accepted, then jumping aboard at an almost 45 degree angle, tapping our Octopus cards and hanging on to whatever we could find as there were no seats available. We quickly climbed very high and the views down to the city below were enough to make anyone’s knees wobble.
Arriving at the top, Tom took the lead, sacking off the viewing platform which cost £5 to go onto and instead saying he thought he knew a route to a higher point with better views of the vista below. So off we went, panting and sweating as we climbed steep windy streets for 30 minutes to of course reach a crappy little area with zero views. Back down all the way to the bottom, at which point Tom realises the road we should have taken. Too hot to argue, I rolled my eyes and followed, making our way along a long pathway until we were rewarded with the view Tom was looking for (although I’m still not sure it was any better than the proper viewing platform, but at least we saved ourselves £10). We stayed at the peak for 2 hours, taking in the views and watching the sunset and the buildings across the city light up. At 9pm the famous Victoria Harbour light show was due to start, so we stuck around for that, but turns out you see naff all from where we were, so we made our way back down and queued for the tram.
Now late and both starving and thirsty, we went in search of a restaurant that was open (and cheap) and hurriedly ordered food. Tom ordered some pork dumplings, but upon biting into them and finding a shrimp (which he’s allergic to) we had to try to explain to the non-English speaking servers that he couldn’t eat it and he needed to order something new. Gutted that we weren’t enjoying the same meal we’d had the night before, we made the long walk back to our hostel, had a couple of Asahis in the common area, crept into our dorm room and hit the hay.
Being the geek that he is, Tom had done his research and worked out that you can get the metro from Hong Kong to cross the border into China to visit the electronic markets of Shenzhen. He’d excitedly shown me videos of the markets, where you can see mountains of wires, microchips, circuit boards etc to build all the electronic products made in China, as well as the products themselves. So that’s what we did. I was a little nervous about how I’d react on the metro, but we weren’t travelling at peak times and it was all quite open and air conditioned so I was fine. The journey took around 45 minutes, and once on the other side we had to get visas on arrival which was a pretty easy process, resulting in an extra stamp in our passports, yay! We grabbed some spring rolls from a fast food place then spent all afternoon browsing 5 malls, each with 7 storeys of electrical goods. Tom started shopping for items we don’t need on a backpacking trip, e.g. a HD projector and a flashy SLR camera, so I managed to talk him out of it, though he’s still adamant he could have got them for a great price and shipped them home.
That evening, back in Hong Kong, we went for dinner at one of the cheapest Michelin star restaurants in the world: Tim Ho Wan. Famous for their dim sum, in particular their BBQ pork buns, and for keeping their prices low in order to feed the locals, we took our seats, sticking out like a sore thumb. We ordered way too much food, but at £3 per item we just wanted to try it all. We didn’t really like most of it, more so due to unfamiliar textures, but the pork buns were super yummy and worth the visit.
Not really knowing what to do on our last day as we’d already ticked off our must-sees, we went for another explore of Hong Kong island, stopping for burgers at a cute american diner. We spent the rest of the day walking through various street markets including the ‘Goldfish Market’ which was basically a street of pet stores stocking every kind of fish/turtle/amphibian you can think of, and another market with shops selling puppies, kittens and bunnies – too cute! I wanted to buy them all.
That evening we went to a more upmarket Peking duck restaurant where, again, we were the only westerners, and we had delicious vegetable noodles, crispy duck pancakes and amazing jasmine tea. We then managed to catch what we should have seen of the light show down by the harbour.
Hong Kong definitely surpassed my expectations – it was for sure a serious step change from India, and a welcome one – but I didn’t expect it to be so pretty and easy to navigate alone. It’d be great to enjoy Hong Kong on a bigger budget as it is a little pricey, but I think we managed to pack in everything we wanted to do; we had really good accommodation in a perfect location, the food was nice and the toilets were clean. Yay!
Next stop, Vietnam!
See ya later, Sophie x