Hong Kong, our last stop! Have you had enough of our sometimes overly detailed posts? You’re in luck, this is our last “place” post. We hope our travels have piqued your wanderlust. If so, we have one more post that will detail how we did it. Of course, if you ever have any questions or curiosities about the places we’ve been to, don’t hesitate to reach out. Finally, a very heartfelt “thank you” for reading along, commenting, sharing, and encouraging. Reflecting on our explorations has been a tremendous gift and we have you to thank for that!
January 13 – 20, 2016
Kyra: Some time ago a friend shared this article on China’s problem with vehicular manslaughter and I couldn’t stop thinking about it while we were on the streets in Hong Kong. Only the top 1% owns a car which means it’s inevitably a luxury brand – with the exception of taxis. Once while walking I watched a parade of Maseratis , Teslas, and BMWs in assorted colors pass without ceasing. The vehicles all drive too fast for a city setting, even garbage trucks.
How we got there
Ben: Our second high-speed train ride of the trip took us from Guangzhou, through Shenzhen, and into Hong Kong. This was the most efficient of our modes of transport and by far my favorite – the train flies through the countryside but no bumps or turbulence are felt, just a smooth ride to your destination. There is plenty of space to move about and the train leaves when it says it should and gets to its destination right on time – perfect.
Where we stayed
Kyra: Housing in Hong Kong, like any other super city, is profoundly expensive. As a result, everything is stacked and small. For our first six nights we stayed in two different $50/night closets, one on Kowloon the other on Hong Kong Island.
Ben: For our final night in Hong Kong, we chose the Ibis Hotel, which is akin to the Holiday Inn Express in the US; nice but basic room, free breakfast, and a good location. This was the comfiest bed we had in Hong Kong and it was a nice change before our 24hrs+ of travel the next day!
Kyra: Food in Hong Kong is reflective of how international the city’s population is but at its roots, Cantonese style dishes, including Dim Sum, are “native” to the area. We visited a traditional Dim Sum diner a couple of mornings where the ala carte buns, ribs, rolls, and more are cooked in a small kitchen easily visible to the restaurant’s patrons. Each dish is made one group at a time then delivered to all those in the restaurant who had ordered it, so your meal comes in waves but each dish is freshly prepared.
Ben: Although Kyra usually convinces me to branch out and eat some of the local cuisine, I couldn’t pass up the happy hour she found at Morton’s of Hong Kong. With the purchase of a drink each we got multiple mini steak sandwiches. The sandwiches were great for a free snack and the drinks pretty strong, which is all I can ask of a happy hour.
Kyra: On Hong Kong Island, in areas that are largely frequented by expat suit-types, you can find healthy/raw food and Korean burrito/burger joints en mass as they are the current food trends.
We walked into Mana one afternoon without realizing it’s known as one of the best vegetarian/healthy restaurants in town.
Ben: If this restaurant was in Minneapolis, my paycheck would be spent there for at least 1.5 meals per day. They’re a hip restaurant in Central on Hong Kong Island. This place could’ve jumped out of the North Loop in Minneapolis and landed in Hong Kong, serving up things such as Falafel Wraps, Chick Pea Salad, and thick cut fries. Kyra and I went here twice during our stay and were impressed both times.
Ben: Again, here’s a cool map of exactly where we went during our Hong Kong experience.
Local View and Lessons Learned
Kyra: A few observations from watching and talking to people at restaurants:
- Couples will go to relatively nice restaurants, order, then play games on their phones without speaking to one-another until the food arrives.
- Switching between Cantonese and English seamlessly was commonplace. They don’t alternate the language each sentence is spoken in but rather just pepper in English words or phrases seemingly arbitrarily.
- We learned that “member-only restaurants” are a thing in Hong Kong. Apparently getting a liquor license is challenging in the city so being “member-only” is a way to expedite the process. We also learned that many of the restaurants are more of a front and don’t explicitly require membership, as we learned in visiting Aladdin’s Mess.
- Apparently Michelin rating is relatively new in Hong Kong, as compared to a place like Japan, so the ratings sort of run the gamut. Apparently with time the process will be streamlined, but as it stands currently, isn’t necessarily the best indication of quality.
Ben: Hong Kong is a city is a terrific mash up of the familiar cities of New York and San Francisco. It has the money, pace, and materialistic nature of New York while keeping some of the scenic and hip nature of Silicon Valley. Kyra and I felt inclined to go shopping more than once based on how our outfits compared to the locals but also because there’s so many malls on every corner it almost becomes necessary – the consumerist and work-heavy aura was confirmed by two locals at one of our dim-sum breakfasts. These two said that the main focuses are working, eating, and shopping, with an emphasis on working. However, there are a myriad of outdoor activities to participate in when there’s the rare occasion of not working (see Dragon’s Back Peak below). In conclusion, we decided it would be very fun to live in Hong Kong if we were somehow able to fund a nice lifestyle without working ourselves to the bone.
Kyra: That said, Hong Kong does long happy hours. We went to one at Lily and Bloom that was $1.50 USD/craft cocktail with fries then $5 USD for every subsequent cocktail until 8.
Kyra: Similarly, haircuts are normally pretty pricey but there are ways around that… The best approach to getting a trim without paying a fortune is to find a shop with a Filipina stylist. We found one wedged on the 8th floor of a ramshackle building that housed a karaoke bar in the basement and a number of other salons accessible via the sometimes-functioning elevator. The temporary fear of abduction was totally worth the great haircut Ben got though!
Kyra: In Hong Kong, they speak Cantonese rather than Mandarin. We were told that Cantonese is much more challenging as there are eight tones instead of Mandarin’s four tones.
Before arriving, I found some bike routes along the river in northern Hong Kong that were well reviewed so Kyra and I took the MTR north, rented some bikes, and went for a nice four hour ride. The mountains and islands along the way, although obscured by the fog/smog, were a nice change of pace from the city. Exercising itself was a nice change too – even though our daily step count has been high, biking is a nice alternative to walking everywhere.
Kyra: One of the happiest things I can recall seeing on our trip was the group of 30-40 older women singing karaoke and performing coordinated dances in the park. On my 70th birthday (October 7, 2059), I would like to be shipped off to China to practice tai chi, play ping pong, and learn group dances in the park.
Kyra: We arrived to a building near the exhibit totally drenched from the pouring rain on the walk over and unsure of where exactly to go. Thanks to a quick round of you-speak-Cantonese-with-hand-gestures-while-I-respond-in-english-and point, we made our way to the City’s Housing Authority building. On the ground floor, we signed consent forms (in Chinese) and were escorted to a beautiful exhibit upstairs. The space is meant to demonstrate Hong Kong’s public housing history leading up to present day. It’s tucked away in a government building but laid out rather exquisitely – really a neat place to visit if you have any interest in city planning.
Ben: On our last full day, Kyra trusted me with a plan to go hiking on the southeast side of Hong Kong island. To be honest, I didn’t exactly know how to get there because I thought we could walk from the last MTR stop to the top of the peak (there was also a bus that would have brought us closer).
Kyra: Getting to the trailhead we had to ascend a rather steep road with limited sidewalk access and cars racing past the cemeteries that lined the hill, but once we got there it was relatively flat with gorgeous panoramas of the islands and city. On our way down, Ben insisted that we find an overlook we had passed on the way up. As we stopped to take in a view of our last city on the trip, he pulled out a surprise necklace purchased on one of the nights we had separated to explore Hong Kong on our own. A beautiful end to our travels.
Ben: Growing out your mole hair(s) if you can’t grow a beard. We saw a number of Asian men that, in lieu of growing stubble, would only grow 1-10 hairs from a mole on their face. Many times these 7 hairs would be a few inches long, grey, and generally disgusting. It’s just another curious trend that we didn’t understand.
Kyra: Mole hairs were actually popular everywhere we went in Asia but we kept forgetting to write about it – despite it being a hard thing to forget seeing.
Kyra: We also kept seeing these statues of men perched on the tops of buildings across town. Apparently it’s an art installation that has caused a bit of a scare for a few citizens.