A few years ago I popped over to Hong Kong for three days on a visa run, it was the height of summer, Club 7-11 was in full effect, the streets were bustling with people enjoying the warm nights – we had a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in. For me three days in Hong Kong wasn’t enough; you can’t possibly get a true feel of the city; so this time we wanted to spend a decent amount of time there, we decided on ten days, which in hindsight was too much, I would say six or seven days is adequate.
This was Becky’s first time in Hong Kong, and possibly the most chaotic place she had ever been, it was mine too – add Chinese New Year into the mix and I am sure you can imagine how manic it was. We wanted to experience Chinese New Year somewhere special and Hong Kong seemed like the best place and to be honest it really was, but if you’re going to do the same thing we did, here are some things that you should bear in mind.
- I’m sure you’ve heard of the New York Minute – a saying invented to emphasise the fast pace of New York City. Well, in Hong Kong they have a term called the Hong Kong second, supposedly to emphasise that the pace of life is even faster than in NYC…Well, you would never have guessed it. I have never witnessed a nation of people who walk so fucking slow, if you happen to be the poor cunt in a rush to get somewhere then be prepared to weave in and out of the hoards of people commuting at a snail’s pace glued to their mobile phones, this isn’t so bad for the first day or two, but half way through the trip I was wanting to chin someone.
- If you are staying in Tsim Sha Tsui be prepared to be asked if you’d like to buy the following: a tailored suit, marijuana, hash, charlie, some really hard stuff, copy rolex and handbags; but don’t worry you’ll only be asked this around twenty times a day if you’re situated on Nathan Road, and what’s even better is the fact that they forget your face in an instant meaning that despite the fact you’ve told them ‘no!’ every day for the past nine days they will still continue to ask. Toward the end of our stay I was close to being found in the fetal position dressed in a tailored suit huffing on a crack pipe because I couldn’t cope with with the automatic gunfire of propositions.
- Although Hong Kong is pretty tame compared to mainland China during CNY still keep in mind that the metro can often get ridiculously busy, this is only a very minor issue though.
- The tram up Victoria Peak. This is something I have done in the past but it was out of the question during this trip, due to it being CNY the queues to get up lasted over three hours so we decided to walk up which took roughly fourty minutes and it was fairly pleasant.
Now, enough of the complaining and onto the good stuff. There’s nowhere in the world quite like Hong Kong, the sliver of concrete carved out of the jungle is simply one of the most unique cityscapes across the globe and here are some things you can do to make the most of it.
- Dim Sum. The quintessential food of Hong Kong, small dishes of delicious cantonese food wheeled around packed restaurants, steaming hot and oozing with flavour. Some of the best things to go for are the steamed or baked barbecue pork buns (the best ones are from a place called Tim Ho Wan), crispy shrimp steamed rice rolls (The ones from One Dim Sum are really good but very filling), steamed or fried dumplings and for dessert try the osmanthus pudding which is a jelly infused with fragrant osmanthus flowers.
- Victoria Peak. Taking the tram or walking the scenic route up Vitoria Peak will give you that postcard view of the Hong Kong skyline, I suggest arriving for around 4pm and staying until the sun goes down, that way you will catch it in daylight, sunset and in darkness – sure you’ll be there for a while but it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
- Hong Kong Botanical and Zoological Gardens. These two are both within a five minute walk of one another and make for a perfect way to spend a few hours away from the crowds. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities on earth, it’s guaranteed that no matter the season you will find yourself in a wave of crowds on a daily basis, eventually you will need a moment to unwind, the Botanical and Zoological Gardens are the perfect place to put your mind at ease.
- Nathan Road. Despite my desire to systematically murder the dealers and street sellers on Nathan Road for making each day a monotonous repetition of the last every time I stepped out of our complex, the street has a certain vibe to it that you won’t see anywhere else, the chorus of supercars tearing up the streets, car horns beeping and people shouting in different languages at all hours of the night gives you a feeling that you’re in the crazier side of Hong Kong.
- Club 7-11. Drinking is ridiculously expensive in Hong Kong, that is of course if you go to bars. The cheapest pint you’re going to get in Hong Kong is going to be in the region of £7, for most travellers myself included this isn’t sustainable…the alternative? Grab a beer and socialise outside the 7-11 for a quarter of the price, this is such a popular option that it has become known as ‘Club 7-11’ and it is one of my favourite things to do in Hong Kong.
- Chungking Mansions. If you haven’t heard of Chungking Mansions and you’re going to Hong Kong then you should probably read up on it, either because you’re going to want to pay it a visit or you’re going to want to give it a wide birth. Often referred to as an eyesore, a haven for organised crime and the unofficial African quarter of Hong Kong, the atmosphere inside has been likened to that of the former Walled City of Kowloon. Some people regard it as an eyesore, the 11 story building once designed to be high end apartments and dissolved into a much stranger place since it was created in the 70’s, it is now host to a number of cheap guesthouses, brothels, markets, restaurants, massage parlous and much more. It was hard for me to take photos in Chungking Mansions as no photography is an unofficial unwritten rule and one I wasn’t too keen to break. Despite it’s shadiness, it’s a pretty quirky place and it is said you won’t find a better curry in Hong Kong than the stuff you’ll find from the number of Indian restaurants within Chungking Mansions and I can testify that the two meals we had from Delhi Club and Sher-E-Punjab were amazing, the latter of which was my favourite, we ate a decent amount of delicious food for a very reasonable price of around $80.
- Kowloon Walled City Memorial Park. For those of you who don’t know of the Walled City I implore you do a little research, it was a fascinating place and one I wish I could have visited. Once the most densely populated place on earth the Kowloon Walled City has its history as a colonial fortress, during the 70’s and 80’s it became the hub of organised crime by the triads and the epicentre of the Asian heroin trade, despite its darker side a lot of normal jobs existed within the walled city. Long story short, it was demolished in the late 1980’s, today all that exists is a nice park and some of the original foundations and one of the original buildings from the Kowloon Walled City, it makes for a pleasant and educational way to spend a few hours in Kowloon.
- Mong Kok. Possibly the busiest places in Hong Kong but a also probably the highest concentration of shops, markets, neon lights and cheap places to eat. This area is only a fifteen minute walk from Nathan road yet the prices are much more suited to the budget traveller.
- Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. It only takes maybe 20 minutes to get here via metro and it’s a nice place to spend half a day, pretty temples, a nice view of tall buildings on the foreground of a mountainous backdrop. Well worth the visit in my opinion.
- Mid Levels Elevator. Head downtown to the area of Soho and you’ll find an elevator that runs maybe a kilometre in length and will take you on a tour through the area of Soho, here you will find a number of bars and places to eat, most of which are pretty expensive but you can get a good deal if you turn up to some of the bars during happy hour. We got two glasses of red wine for $60 which is amazing for Hong Kong.
- Fireworks at CNY. Chinese firework display, need I say more.
- The Chinese New Year Parade. It was chaotic to say the last but worth it, the parade lasted for approximately two hours and was mostly trouble free, we did see a few people getting taken away by police but that is to be expected in an event that size. They do close off roads and at different times they will redirect the flow of walking traffic so be prepared.
Another few notable things worth mentioning are the Avenue of Stars (Bruce Lee statue), Tsim Sha Tsie promenade, street food in Mong Kong, Kowloon Park and the multitude of good western restaurants (I would make the effort to check out Burger Room if you fancy some good home comforts).
That post has tired my brain out so it’s bedtime for me. We are due to leave Khao Yai tomorrow to board an overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, from there we hope to travel around the north of the country.