The way I see it, to be “perfect” a destination has to go all the way. A big city needs to be big and busy, the countryside peaceful and lush. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like cities that have touches of nature, it’s more the energy, the pulse and the excitement that need to be there. I don’t like Paris in August for exactly that reason, it’s so quiet, I find it depressing, if I wanted tranquility, I’d go to a truly tranquil place.
Hong Kong is dense, very dense, a concrete (and glass) jungle. However, far from a dull one, there’s something to look at in every direction: bright signs, colorful food stalls, traditional medicinal shops line with bins of exotic herbs, flowers or dried fish belly… and that’s exactly what you’ll find: the skyscrapers of the modern west and the exotic delights of the east. Hong Kong is a curious and exciting place, one minute you could be sipping a cappuccino at a hipster café and the next scarfing down dim sum with your chopsticks… and in my week in Hong Kong I did a good deal of both. And since there’s so much English spoken there, it doesn’t feel as intimidating as some other Asian cities, which merely allows you to relax and not have to worry as much about getting around and maneuvering the city.
Through my job at Context Travel I’ve been fortunate enough to always connect with locals and see a destination through their eyes, in Hong Kong I also got to connect with some friends, one being new, Samson, who struck up a conversation with my colleague and I on the subway in Osaka and since I’d be coming to HK a few weeks later, we Facebook-friended each other. Samson and I met up for lunch on my first full day, it was great to have him pick out some of the tasty local food the city is known for. Over turnip sticks, ginger noodles and egg buns I got to hear about the life of a sweet and sensitive mid-20s Hongkonger… and give him some romantic advice, which he’d requested from me, being “older and wise.” We met up another time too, another great chance to have a local experience with more food and a walk around lively Kowloon ending with the fantastic evening view of HK Island, savored on the ferry ride back over.
I managed to eat my way around town with enough vegetarian options, some of the best enjoyed in divey slightly grungy places. Then there were some quirky culinary discoveries, I did stay clear of the snake soup (yes, made from real snakes) and the aforementioned fish belly soup (both good for coughs as I was told on several occasions, as was herbal tea and a variety of other traditional remedies), though I did enjoy some other local specialities like egg tarts and pineapple buns, east-meets-west hybrids. Breakfast for dinner anyone? Head to the famous Australian Dairy Company and sink your teeth into French toast while sipping hot milk tea.
As much as I loved the city buzz, some of my favorite experiences where at quieter places, especially at the Man Mo temple. Right there sunken among the sea of towers is this tiny temple, a small serene oasis. The center is illuminated by these gorgeous red lanterns, which, the day I was there, were also cast with discrete sun rays peeking through a high window. Incense lit by the faithful, offerings left by some of the altars and fascinating statues helped amplify the ambience. A had a few other windows into their spiritual world. In the very local neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun where I was staying, one can find rows of shops selling cardboard offers for your ancestors, perhaps they may like a new car? tennis racket? All expenses paid vacation?
I also ventured out to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island, the world’s largest Buddha statue at 34 metres-high. The lines for the cable car where horrible so I wasn’t sure if it was really worth it (book your ticket in advance if you go! I should have known better), however, sitting perched on a mountain and large pedestal, it’s really quite a moving place and the views are spectacular. Lastly along a similar vein, I trekked out to the New Territories one day, to a traditional village, it was a bit far but this was a cool look into what Hong Kong was like before the arrival of the British. We visited old temples, study halls and even came across park with locals enjoying their weekend, picnicking and flying kites. Plus it was great to do something completely untouristy.
The 6.5 days were definitely not enough time and I would have been sadder to leave had I not been departing HK for Bali, nonetheless, I definitely have many reasons to go back, however, trying fish belly soup might not be one of them well, that is unless I have a very serious cough 🙂
If you’re traveling to Hong Kong, have a look at the tours led by a cool range of local experts, architects and writers we’ve designed here.